The Anthropocene Project
by Edward Burtynsky
Edward Burtynsky’s imagery explores the collective impact we as a species are having on the surface of the planet and inspects the human systems we’ve imposed onto natural landscapes. His photographs are included in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and Tate Modern in London, among others. His images appear in Canadian Art, Smithsonian, Harper’s Magazine, National Geographic, and The New York Times. Burtynsky’s distinctions include the TED Prize, the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts, and the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award by the World Photography Organization. Most recently he was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and was named the 2022 recipient for the Pollution Probe Award.
This photo essay bears witness to a critical moment in geological history, showing the breadth of impact that our human systems and technologies have imposed onto natural landscapes.
Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man: from stone to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible, I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries, and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.
These images are meant as metaphors for the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire—a chance at good living—yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet set us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.
These images are one part of The Anthropocene Project, a multidisciplinary body of work combining fine art photography, film, virtual reality, augmented reality, and scientific research to investigate the complex and indelible human signature on the earth.