Edward Burtynsky’s new work on human impact
Edward Burtynsky’s new series “Anthropocene” marks the latest addition to his career-spanning investigation into the unprecedented impact of human intervention on Earth. The Canadian photographer visited 20 countries on every continent except Antarctica, including the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Norway, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya, and Nigeria. The photographs dating from 2012 to 2017 highlight the artist’s visual exploration into the global consequences of coastal erosion, logging, mining, and industrial agriculture with subjects ranging from the surreal lithium evaporation ponds in the Atacama Desert in Chile to the psychedelic potash mines in Russia’s Ural Mountains.
The project title refers to a proposal circulating in the scientific community to formally recognize the commencement of a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – in which humans are the primary cause of permanent planetary change. Two gallery exhibitions, at Howard Greeberg and Bryce Wolkowitz galleries in New York, currently show the work, which coincides with the release of Burtynsky’s Steidl monograph of the same title; and a new documentary, “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch”, which was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September.
For 35 years, Burtynsky’s photographic projects have led him around the world, recording the intersection of industrial growth and environmental consciousness. His previous subjects range from urban renewal centers and housing projects to recycling yards, rock quarries, and the skeletons of decommissioned shipping vessels and containers.
Currently under vigorous and passionate international debate, the acceptance of the controversial idea of the Anthropocene would represent a formal recognition and acknowledgement of what Burtynsky, Baichwal, and de Pencier call the “human signature” on the planet.
“Humans have always taken from nature,” states Burtynsky. “This is normal, part of the human condition, and, indeed, a fact of life for all life forms. What is different now is the speed and scale of human taking, and the Earth has never experienced this kind of cumulative impact. If my images appear surreal at times, it must be remembered that they depict our extractive world as it is.”