Selected works, Edward Burtynsky's photography

Edward Burtynsky Selected works

Alberta Oil Sands #6, Tailings, 2007

Alberta Oil Sands #1, 2007

Alberta Oil Sands #10, Tailings, 2007

Feng Jie #3 & #4(Diptych), 2002

Feng Jie #5, 2002

Nickel Tailings #34 & #35 (Diptych), 1996

SOCAR Oil Fields #2, 2006

Dam #6, 2005

SOCAR Oil Fields #1a & #1b (diptych), 2006

SOCAR Oil Fields #3, 2006

Alberta Oil Sands #2, Tailings, 2007

Alberta Oil Sands #4, 2007

Alberta Oil Sands #7, Tailings, 2007

Alberta Oil Sands #9, 2007, © Edward Burtynsky

Dam #2, 2002

Dam #4, 2002

Feng Jie #6, 2002

Wan Zhou #2, 2002

Wushan #11, 2002

Artist's statement

When we destroy nature, we diminish ourselves. We impoverish our children…I don’t want my children to grow up in a world where… we’ve lost touch with the seasons and the tides and the things that connect us to the 10,000 generations of human beings that were here before there were laptops.

These thoughts closely echo my own sentiments about the kind of world we leave for future generations. It is my belief that using a variety of communications, a widespread effort to inform the global populous, its corporations and governments, is critical to inspiring responsible dialogue regarding the effect an industrial global economy has on our planet. Through creative production I have found a means by which I can add my voice in support of a viable civilization. I feel an urgency to help make people aware that what we give to the future are the choices we make today. Only one percent of China’s water supply is potable. In fact, over fifty percent of all rivers in that country are polluted to such an extent that it is considered dangerous to put one’s hand in them. That toxic water finds its way to our oceans, the food of which we all share. For each barrel of oil recovered from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, three barrels of contaminated water – required to separate that oil from sand – are pumped into tailing ponds that closely border fresh water rivers. Eighty-five percent of all manufactured goods are sent across oceans in gigantic container ships that consume fuel oil at a terrifying rate. There are countless examples illustrating the sheer volume of environmental degradation and resource consumption that supports our modern lifestyle.

I no longer see my world as delineated by countries, with borders or language but as 6.5 billion humans living off a single finite planet. Just as the eventual depletion of global oil reserves will have a profound effect on world economies, compromises we make in the pursuit of economic growth to an even more essential resource – our drinking water – will have a fundamental impact on our very sustenance. The basic need for fresh water, like air and sunlight, is not a lifestyle choice it’s a matter of survival. Nature transformed through industry is the predominant theme in my work. The images are meant as metaphors for the dilemma of our modern existence as I search for a visual dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by the desire for a comfortable life, but the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide materials for our consumption, and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.

About the photographer


1955, St. Catharines, Canada



Based in

Ontario, Canada

About Edward Burtynsky

Edward Burtynsky holds the inaugural TED prize, the Roloff Beny Book Award, and the 2008 International Center of Photography (ICP) Infinity Award for Art. He is the author of three books of photography and has received three honorary degrees. Burtynsky’s large-format colour photographs of man-altered landscapes have been exhibited at museums such as the National Gallery of Canada, The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montreal. Burtynsky’s photographs are housed in many private, corporate and public collections including The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.