Edward Burtynsky

Edward Burtynsky (born February 22, 1955) is a Canadian photographer and artist known for his large format photographs of industrial landscapes.

Edward Burtynsky
Ed Burtynsky in 2009
Born (1955-02-22) February 22, 1955
Occupationphotographer, artist
AwardsOfficer of the Order of Canada, TED Prize, The Outreach award at the Rencontres d’Arles, The Flying Elephant Fellowship, Applied Arts Magazine book award(s), the Roloff Beny Book award.[1]

Early life, education, and early career

Burtynsky was born in St. Catharines, Ontario. His parents had immigrated to Canada in 1951 from Ukraine and his father found work on the production line at the local General Motors plant.[2] Burtynsky recalls playing by the Welland Canal and watching ships pass through the locks. When he was 11, his father purchased a darkroom, including cameras and instruction manuals, from a widow whose late husband practiced amateur photography.[3] With his father, Burtynsky learned how to make black and white prints and together with his older sister established a small business taking portraits at the local Ukrainian center.[2] In the early 1970s, Burtynsky found work in printing and he started night classes in photography, later enrolling at the Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.[4]

From the mid-1970s to early 1980s, Burtynsky formally studied graphic arts and photography. He obtained a diploma in graphic arts from Niagara College in Welland, Ontario, in 1976, and a BAA in Photographic Arts (Media Studies Program) from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto, Ontario, in 1982.[5][6]

After working in photography labs, in 1985, he established his own, Toronto Image Works, which became his main business. Thanks to a patron, he was able to take time off from that work to photograph quarries, and this was the start of his fine art photography career.[7]


Burtynsky's most famous photographs are sweeping views of landscapes altered by industry: mine tailings, quarries, scrap piles. The grand, awe-inspiring beauty of his images is often in tension with the compromised environments they depict. He has made several excursions to China to photograph that country's industrial emergence, and construction of one of the world's largest engineering projects, the Three Gorges Dam.

His early influences include Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Eadweard Muybridge, and Carleton Watkins, whose prints he saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 1980s.

Most of Burtynsky's exhibited photography (pre 2007) was taken with a large format, field camera, on large 4×5-inch sheet film and developed into high-resolution, large-dimension prints of various sizes and editions ranging from 18 × 22 inches to 60 × 80 inches. He often positions himself at high-vantage points over the landscape using elevated platforms, the natural topography, and more currently drones, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Burtynsky describes the act of taking a photograph in terms of "The Contemplated Moment", evoking and in contrast to, "The Decisive Moment" of Henri Cartier-Bresson. He currently uses a high-resolution digital medium format camera.[8][9]

Photographic series

  • 1983–1985 Breaking Ground: Mines, Railcuts and Homesteads, Canada, USA
  • 1991–1992 Vermont Quarries, USA
  • 1997–1999 Urban Mines: Metal Recycling, Canada Tire Piles, USA
  • 1993–Carrara Quarries, Italy
  • 1995–1996 Tailings, Canada
  • 1999-2010 Oil Canada, China, Azerbaijan, USA
  • 2000–Makrana Quarries, India
  • 2000–2001 Shipbreaking, Bangladesh
  • 2004–2006 China
  • 2006–Iberia Quarries, Portugal
  • 2007–Australian Mines, Western Australia
  • 2009–2013 Water Canada, USA, Mexico, Europe, Asia, Iceland, India
  • 2016 Salt Pans[10]
  • 2014–2018 Anthropocene[11][12]

Other projects

Burtynsky chaired the board of directors of the online sustainability magazine Worldchanging until May 2010, shortly before it ceased operating.[13] He sits on the board of Contact, Toronto's international festival of photography.[14]

Toronto Image Works

In 1985, Burtynsky established Toronto Image Works, a commercial photography lab, which has evolved into a facility that also offers darkroom rentals, equipment use and digital new-media courses. In 1986 the facility opened a gallery space which displays the work of local and international artists. He is currently its president.[15]

Manufactured Landscapes

In 2006, Burtynsky was the subject of the documentary film, Manufactured Landscapes, that was shown at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.[16]

In July 2008 Burtynsky delivered a seminar for the Long Now Foundation entitled "The 10,000 year Gallery".[17] The foundation promotes very long-term thinking and is managing various projects including the Clock of the Long Now, which is a clock designed to run for 10,000 years. Burtynsky was invited by clock designer Danny Hillis to contribute to the Long Now project, and Burtynsky proposed a gallery to accompany the clock. In his seminar, he suggested that a gallery of photographs which captured the essence of their time, like the cave paintings at Lascaux, could be curated annually and then taken down and stored. He outlined his research into a carbon-transfer process for printing photographs that would use inert stone pigments suspended in a hardened gelatine colloid and printed onto thick archival watercolour paper. He believes that these photographs would persist over the 10,000 year time-frame when stored away from moisture.[17]


Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal, who directed the 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes, are co-directors of the 2013 documentary film, Watermark.[18] The film is part of his five-year project, Water, focusing on the way water is used and managed.[19]

ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch and The Anthropocene Project

The Anthropocene Project is a multidisciplinary body of work from collaborators Nicholas de Pencier, Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal. Combining art, film, virtual reality, augmented reality, and scientific research, the project investigates human influence on the state, dynamic and future of the Earth. Anthropocene means a new era of geological time where human activity is the driving force behind environmental and geological change.

In September 2018 ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Two complementary exhibitions also debuted in September 2018 at the Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Canada. In the Spring of 2019 the exhibition will tour to Fondazione MAST in Bologna, Italy.

Publications by Burtynsky

  • Oil. Göttingen: Steidl, 2005. ISBN 978-3-86521-943-5. Edited by Marcus Schubert. With essays by Michael Mitchell, William E. Rees, and Paul Roth. "Published in conjunction with exhibitions held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Oct. 3-Dec. 13, 2009 and Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography Amsterdam, Dec. 5, 2009-Feb. 28, 2010."[20]
  • China. Göttingen: Steidl. 2005. ISBN 978-3-86521-130-9. With essays by Ted Fishman, Mark Kingwell, Marc Mayer, and Burtynsky.
  • Manufactured Landscapes: The Photography of Edward Burtynsky. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: National Gallery of Canada; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780300099430. Edited by Lori Pauli. With essays by Mark Haworth-Booth and Kenneth Baker, interview by Michael Torosian.
  • Quarries. Göttingen: Steidl, 2007. ISBN 978-3-86521-456-0. With essays by Michael Mitchell, "More urgent than beauty," "Rock of Ages," "Three marble mountains," "Dying for beauty," "Buy low, sell low," and "Inverted architecture."
  • Pentimento. Catalogue of an exhibition held at Flowers Central, London, 2010.
  • Water. Göttingen: Steidl, 2013. ISBN 9783869306797. Edited by Marcus Schubert. With essays by Wade Davis and Russell Lord. "Catalog of an exhibition held at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, Oct. 5, 2013-Jan. 19, 2014."[21]
  • Essential Elements. Thames & Hudson, 2016. ISBN 978-0500544617. With essay by William A. Ewing.
  • Salt Pans. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. ISBN 978-3-95829-240-6.
  • Anthropocene. Göttingen: Steidl, 2018. ISBN 978-3958294899. With essays by Jennifer Baichwal, Nick De Pencier, Suzaan Boettger, Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Waters, Margaret Atwood.



Burtynsky's work is held in the following permanent collections:

See also


  1. Edward Burtynsky Biography
  2. Pauli 2003, p. 11
  3. Richler 2003, p. 95
  4. Torosian 2003, p. 47
  5. Pauli 2003, 11.
  6. "Edward Burtynsky". Edward Burtynsky. Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
  7. Quarries. Steidl, 2007
  8. Khatchadourian, Raffi (12 December 2016). "Edward Burtynsky's Epic Landscapes". ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-02-12 via The New Yorker.
  9. "An Interview with Edward Burtynsky". Petapixel. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  10. "Salt Pans". Edward Burtynsky. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  11. "Anthropocene". Edward Burtynsky. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  12. Davison, Nicola (13 October 2018). "The devastating environmental impact of human progress like you've never seen it before". Wired UK. ISSN 1357-0978. Retrieved 2019-02-12 via www.wired.co.uk.
  13. "Our Team". Worldchanging. Archived from the original on 2010-05-15. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  14. "About Us". Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival. Archived from the original on 2011-11-04. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
  15. "TIW : Toronto Image Works : Home". Toronto Image Works. Archived from the original on 2012-09-05. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
  16. "mercury films inc. - documentary". Mercuryfilms.ca. Archived from the original on 2012-09-05. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
  17. "Edward Burtynsky: The 10,000-year Gallery" (video). The Long Now. July 23, 2008. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
  18. "Talented veterans, emerging directors make TIFF's Canadian lineup". CBC News. 7 August 2013. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  19. Clive Cookson (September 27, 2013). "Edward Burtynsky". Financial Times. Retrieved September 29, 2013.
  20. Burtynsky, Edward; Mitchell, Michael; Rees, William E; Roth, Paul; Schubert, Marcus; Corcoran Gallery of Art; Huis Marseille (Amsterdam, Netherlands). Burtynsky: oil. Göttingen; London: Steidl ; Thames & Hudson [distributor. ISBN 9783865219435 via Open WorldCat.
  21. Burtynsky, Edward; Davis, Wade; Lord, Russell; Schubert, Marcus; Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans, La.). Burtynsky: water. Göttingen; [New Orleans: Steidl ; NOMA. ISBN 9783869306797 via Open WorldCat.
  22. "Governor General to invest 37 recipients into the Order of Canada". archive.gg.ca. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  23. "Edward Burtynsky inspires sustainability". TED (conference). Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  24. "Members since 1880". Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  25. "Geological Society of America Awards". www.geosociety.org. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  26. "Canadian documentary 'Watermark' wins $100,000 prize from the Toronto Film Critics Association". CTV News. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  27. "Canadian Screen Awards: Orphan Black, Less Than Kind, Enemy nominated". CBC News, 13 January 2014.
  28. "2014 Canadian Screen Awards Gala Winners Announced" Canadian Film Centre. Accessed 17 September 2016
  29. "Academy announces 2014 Canadian Screen Awards Winners during Live CBC Broadcast Gala" Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. Accessed 17 September 2016
  30. "Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts Honour 8 of Canada's Best". Canada Council for the Arts. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  31. Fidler, Matt (5 February 2018). "Edward Burtynsky: 2018 winner of Master of Photography – in pictures". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-02-12 via www.theguardian.com.
  32. "The Peace Patron Dinner". Mosaic Institute. 10 January 2018. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  33. "'Anthropocene' named best Canadian feature by Toronto Film Critics Association". toronto.citynews.ca. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  34. "Vancouver Film Critics Circle names Edge of the Knife top Canadian feature film". thestar.com. Retrieved 2019-02-12.

Further reading

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