Edward Burtynsky – Changing the Shape of the Earth


Edward Burtynsky’s landscapes are singularly lonesome.

From recycling yards and quarries, to oceans, tailings (mine dumps) and oil spills, his lens captures those parts of the world that are directly affected by our modern excesses. But we don’t normally get to see the side he shows us, till it is too late; till we are faced with the destruction of, or the extinction of something we consider essential to our everyday existence.

Taken from helicopters and planes, these images are stunning and we can’t help but face the reality that our unending wants today, could leave us sorely wanting in the years to come.

Homesteads #32, View from Highway 8, British Columbia 1985


Homesteads #37, Cottage North of Princeton. Highway 5, British Columbia 1985


Nickel Tailings #30, Sudbury, Ontario 1996


Shipbreaking #11, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2000


Shipbreaking #17, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2000


Shipbreaking #23, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2000


Feng Jie #5, Yangtze River, China, 2002


Dam #6, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, 2005


China Recycling #9, Circuit Boards, Guiyu, Guangdong Province, China, 2004


Manufacturing #11, Youngor Textiles, Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China, 2005

Shipyard #13, Qili Port, Zhejiang Province, China 2005

Urban Renewal #11, Hold Out, Shanghai, China 2004


Urban Renewal #6, Apartment Complex, JiangjunAo, Hong Kong, 2004


Iberia Quarries #8, Cochicho Co., Pardais, Portugal, 2006


Mines #22, Kennecott Copper Mine, Bingham Valley, Utah 1983


Silver Lake Operations #1, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia, 2007


Oil Fields #2, Belridge, California, USA, 2003

Oil Tanker and Refineries, Pasadena, Texas, USA, 2004


Breezewood, Pennsylvania, USA, 2008

Highway #1, Los Angeles, California, USA, 2003


SOCAR Oil Fields #6, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006


Oxford Tire Pile #1, Westley, California, USA, 1999


Burning Tire Pile #1, Near Stockton, California, USA, 1999


Oil Spill #13, Mississippi Delta, Gulf of Mexico, June 24, 2010

Salton Sea #1, Eastern Shore, California, USA, 2009


Dryland Farming #24, Monegros County, Aragon, Spain, 2010

Pivot Irrigation #11, High Plains, Texas Panhandle, USA, 2011


Stepwell #4, Sagar Kund Baori, Bundi, Rajasthan, India, 2010

All of the above, we’ve done ourselves. Whether we should be proud or ashamed, only time will tell.

In an ironic moment while accepting his 2005 TED Prize, Burtynsky actually thanks the ‘Corporations’, that have allowed him to access the various sites he has photographed. Without their permission he wouldn’t have been able to take many of these images. Burtynsky admits that we do need these Corporations in many ways, but the key is to find sustainable ways to negotiate our growing need for technological advancement and resources. As he says – there’s no harm in wanting a nice house and a nice car, but there are consequences to be faced.

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