Internationally renowned Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s latest body of work, Water, explores the course, collection, control, displacement, and depletion of this vital natural resource. The exhibition is the second initiative of the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)-Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) programming partnership and features 60 large-scale photographs that form a global portrait of humanity’s relationship to water. The exhibition runs October 5, 2013, through January 19. 2014, at the CAC in New Orleans.

Burtynsky has long been recognized for his ability to combine vast and serious subject matter with a rigorous, formal approach to picture making. The resulting images are part abstraction, part architecture, and part raw data. In producing Water Burtynsky has worked across the globe—from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of the Ganges—weaving together an ambitious representation of water’s increasingly fragmented lifecycle.

“Five years in the making, Water is at once Burtynsky’s most detailed and expansive project to date, with images of the 2010 Gulf oil spill, step wells in India, dam construction in China, aquaculture, farming, and pivot irrigation systems,” said Susan M. Taylor, Director of the New Orleans Museum of Art. In addition, Water includes some of the first pure landscapes that Burtynsky has made since the early 1980s. These archaic, almost primordial images of British Columbia place the structures of water control in a historical context, tracing the story of water from the ancient to the modern, and back again.

Although the story of water is certainly an ecological one, Burtynsky is more interested in presenting the facts on the ground than in declaring society’s motives good or bad. In focusing on all the facets of people’s relationship with water, including ritual and leisure, Burtynsky offers evidence without an argument. “Burtynsky’s work functions as an open-ended question about humanity’s past, present, and future,” said Russell Lord, Freeman Family Curator of Photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art. “The big question is: Do these pictures represent the achievement of humanity or one of its greatest faults, or both? Each visitor might find a different answer in this exhibition, depending upon what they bring to it.”

The exhibition, organized by Russell Lord, is accompanied by a catalogue published by Steidl with over 100 color plates from Burtynsky’s water series. It includes essays by Lord and Wade Davis, renowned anthropologist and Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. More information can be found at www.edwardburtynsky.com.

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Cite this Article

Burtynsky, Edward. “Water.” Issues in Science and Technology 30, no. 2 (Winter 2014).

Vol. XXX, No. 2, Winter 2014