Edward Burtynsky
Burtynsky in 2009
Born (1955-02-22) February 22, 1955 (age 69)
Occupation(s)photographer, artist
AwardsOfficer of the Order of Canada

TED Prize
Geological Society of America President's Medal
Roger's Best Canadian Film Award
Best Feature Length Documentary
Master of Photo
Peace Patron Award
Best Canadian Documentary

Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society

Edward Burtynsky OC RCA (born February 22, 1955) is a Canadian photographer and artist known for his large format photographs of industrial landscapes. His works depict locations from around the world that represent the increasing development of industrialization and its impacts on nature and the human existence. It is most often connected to the philosophical concept of the sublime, a trait established by the grand scale of the work he creates, though they are equally disturbing in the way they reveal the context of rapid industrialization.[2]

Burtynsky is the inaugural winner of the TED Prize for Innovation and Global Thinking in 2005.[3] In 2016 he was the receiver of the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts for his collection of works thus far.[4]

Burtynsky is an advocate for environmental conservationism and his work is deeply entwined in his advocacy. His work comments on the scars left by industrial capitalism while establishing an aesthetic for environmental devastation,[2] the sublime-horrors discussed in a number of essays on the topic of his work.[5] He sits on the board of Contact, Toronto's international festival of photography.[6]

Early life

Burtynsky was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, a blue-collar town where General Motors was the largest employer. His Father, Peter Burtynsky, was a Ukrainian immigrant who found work on the production line at the General Motors plant. When Burtynsky was 11 years old, his father purchased a darkroom and cameras from a widow whose late husband had practiced amateur photography. Burtynsky was given two rolls of Tri-X film and told to make do with that or support the habit through his own means.[7] Along with learning black and white photography, he learned black and white print.[1] This would prove to be useful in the development of his own business to support his new-found habit as he began photographing events and providing portraits at his local Ukrainian community center, charging 50 cents per photograph. With the money he made, he travelled throughout the countryside of St. Catharines photographing the "pristine landscapes" of his childhood.[8] This is where he would later attribute his interest in pursuing landscape photography.

Education and early career

From the mid-1970s to early 1980s, Burtynsky formally studied graphic arts and photography. He obtained a diploma in graphic design from Niagara College in Welland, Ontario, beginning his studies in 1974.[9] After receiving his collegial diploma, he had not initially considered pursuing higher education, but quickly changed his mind when touring the Ryerson campus on a request from a former photography teacher of his.[7] He enrolled and completed the four-year undergraduate program and obtained a Bachelor's in Photographic Arts (Media Studies Program) from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto, Ontario, in 1982.[9]

Burtynsky's earliest works, now donated to Ryerson University's Image Center are primarily taken in locations across Ontario and Western Canada. Influenced by American photographers such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Carleton Watkins, these works consist mostly of colored landscapes. Some of his earliest original landscape photographs such as Landscape Study #1, North Carolina, USA (1979) and Landscape Study #2, Ontario, Canada (1981) served as portfolio submissions for Ryerson and displayed traces of his early exploration into the main themes of his work: human control over nature.[10] Burtynsky briefly worked in photography departments for IBM and the Ontario Hospital Association peri-graduation and in architecture post-graduation [7] until in 1985, he founded Toronto Image Works, a studio space that doubled as a darkroom rental facility, custom photo laboratory and training center for digital and new media.[9]

Some of Burtynsky's breakout works post-graduation such as Breaking Ground: Mines, Railcuts and Homesteads (1983–85) and Vermont Quarries (1991-92) show a decisive transition toward the human impact themes that mark his later work.[9] In many of these indicate an honest account of the ecology of human interaction and the pillaging of landscapes which include the dialogue between the human, machine and the earth.[5]


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.[2] 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.[11] He currently uses a high-resolution digital medium format camera.[12]

Burtynsky's photographic style is characterized by the sublime nature of the scale of his photographs. His large-format view camera depicts humanity's scarring on the landscapes he makes his subject, with "astonishing color and relentless detail", always focusing on the consequences of global consumerism.[2] Burtynsky's photography places the viewer in a state of non-intervention with the environments depicted.[2][11] While the viewer witnesses the consequences of radicalized consumerism, the viewer is left to quietly contemplate its political articulation: neither a condemnation nor a celebration of the subject matter, simply an acknowledgement of its existence, to create dialogue, not to dichotomize.[5]

Manufactured Landscapes (2003)

Manufactured Landscapes is a collection of more than 60 large scale images, many as large as 48 by 60 inches, depicting Burtynsky's travels around the world capturing stunning transformations of nature into industrial landscapes.[2] In 2003, Burtynsky developed a series of images conveying China's contemporary transformation into industrialization which was included as part of the exhibit. Using a 4×5 large format camera he presented the result of Western consumerism on the industrialization of China while depicting the effects of the environmental devastation caused by Chinese industrial ambitions in China.[13]

People viewing a Burtynsky show at the Art Gallery of Hamilton

Burtynsky photographs sweeping views of landscapes altered by industry: mine tailings, quarries, scrap piles.[5] The grandeur of his images is often in tension with the compromised environments they depict.[14] 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.[5]

Photographic series

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.[1]

Film and other mediums

Manufactured Landscapes (documentary)

Main article: 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.[5]


Main article: Watermark (2013 film)

Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal, who directed Manufactured Landscapes, are co-directors of the 2013 documentary film, Watermark.[19] The film is part of his five-year project, Water, focusing on the way water is used and managed.[20]

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch and The Anthropocene Project

Main article: Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

The Anthropocene Project is a multidisciplinary body of work from collaborators Nicholas de Pencier, Burtynsky and 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 (TIFF).[21] In 2019 it won the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award at the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards 2018. The filmmakers gave the $100,000 prize money to the runners-up and to TIFF's Share Her Journey initiative, which supports women in film.[22]

Two complementary exhibitions also debuted in September 2018 at the Art Gallery of Ontario[23] and National Gallery of Canada.[23] In 2019 the exhibition toured to Fondazione MAST in Bologna, Italy.[24]

In the Wake of Progress

Burtynsky's In the Wake of Progress: Images of the Industrial Landscape has been a webcast in 2003,[25] and a touring immersive multimedia experience, blending music, photography and film, in 2021–22.[26]


Group exhibitions



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

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Edward Burtynsky | The Canadian Encyclopedia". www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Retrieved 2021-02-25.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Ptak, Laurel (2006). "Edward Burtynsky: Manufactured Landscapes". Aperture (184): 14. ISSN 0003-6420. JSTOR 24473179.
  3. ^ a b "Free Thinking: Energy and Landscape: Edward Burtynsky, Ella Hickson". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2021-03-04.
  4. ^ Burtynsky, Edward. "Edward Burtynsky | Speaker | TED". www.ted.com. Retrieved 2021-02-25.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Schuster, Joshua (2013). "Between Manufacturing and Landscapes: Edward Burtynsky and the Photography of Ecology". Photography and Culture. 6 (2): 193–212. doi:10.2752/175145213X13606838923318. ISSN 1751-4517. S2CID 96476535.
  6. ^ "About Us". Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival. Archived from the original on 2011-11-04. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
  7. ^ a b c Herman, Alexander (2010). Kickstart : how successful Canadians got started. Paul Matthews, Andrew Feindel, Inc Gibson Library Connections, Gibson Library Connections. Toronto [Ont.]: Dundurn Group. ISBN 978-1-55002-783-9. OCLC 666231575.
  8. ^ Ballamingie, Patricia; Chen, Xiaobei; Henry, Eric; Nemiroff, Diana (2009). "Edward Burtynsky's China Photographs-A Multidisciplinary Reading". Environments. 37 – via ResearchGate.
  9. ^ a b c d "Edward Burtynsky | The Canadian Encyclopedia". www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Retrieved 2021-04-02.
  10. ^ "Visionary Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky gifts career-spanning archive to the Ryerson Image Centre". Ryerson University. Retrieved 2021-04-02.
  11. ^ a b Khatchadourian, Raffi (12 December 2016). "Edward Burtynsky's Epic Landscapes". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  12. ^ "An Interview with Edward Burtynsky". Petapixel. 13 April 2017. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  13. ^ Zehle, Soenke (May 2008). "Dispatches from the Depletion Zone: Edward Burtynsky and the Documentary Sublime". Media International Australia. 127 (1): 109–115. doi:10.1177/1329878X0812700114. ISSN 1329-878X. S2CID 146380906.
  14. ^ Campbell, Craig (2008). "Residual Landscapes and the Everyday: An Interview With Edward Burtynsky". Space and Culture. 11 (1): 39–50. Bibcode:2008SpCul..11...39C. doi:10.1177/1206331207310703. ISSN 1206-3312. S2CID 145619989.
  15. ^ "Salt Pans". Edward Burtynsky. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  16. ^ "Anthropocene". Edward Burtynsky. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "Series". /www.artgalleryofhamilton.com. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
  19. ^ "Talented veterans, emerging directors make TIFF's Canadian lineup". CBC News. 7 August 2013. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  20. ^ Clive Cookson (September 27, 2013). "Edward Burtynsky". Financial Times. Retrieved September 29, 2013.
  21. ^ "The Anthropocene Project | Film". The Anthropocene Project. Retrieved 2021-04-05.
  22. ^ a b "'Anthropocene' named best Canadian feature by Toronto Film Critics Association". toronto.citynews.ca. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  23. ^ a b "The Anthropocene Project | Exhibition". The Anthropocene Project. Retrieved 2021-04-05.
  24. ^ "Al Mast di Bologna Burtynsky racconta "Anthropocene"". dire.it. 16 November 2019. Retrieved 2021-03-04.
  25. ^ "Edward Burtynsky in the Wake of Progress: Images of the Industrial Landscape". Library of Congress. Retrieved 12 December 2022.
  26. ^ "Edward Burtynsky's In the Wake of Progress". Luminato. Retrieved 12 December 2022.
  27. ^ Burtynsky, Edward; Mitchell, Michael; Rees, William E; Roth, Paul; Schubert, Marcus; Corcoran Gallery of Art; Huis Marseille (Amsterdam, Netherlands) (2009). Burtynsky: oil. Göttingen; London: Steidl ; Thames & Hudson [distributor. ISBN 9783865219435. OCLC 326585806.
  28. ^ Burtynsky, Edward; Davis, Wade; Lord, Russell; Schubert, Marcus; Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans, La.) (2013). Burtynsky: water. Göttingen; [New Orleans: Steidl ; NOMA. ISBN 9783869306797. OCLC 861177379.
  29. ^ Ackerberg, Erica (5 May 2023). "Edward Burtynsky Views the Effects of Globalism From Above". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-05-06.
  30. ^ "Civilisation: the Way We Live Now". Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography. Retrieved 12 December 2022.
  31. ^ "Members since 1880". Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  32. ^ "Edward Burtynsky inspires sustainability". TED (conference). Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  33. ^ "Governor General to invest 37 recipients into the Order of Canada". archive.gg.ca. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  34. ^ "Geological Society of America Awards". www.geosociety.org. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  35. ^ "Canadian documentary 'Watermark' wins $100,000 prize from the Toronto Film Critics Association". CTV News. 7 January 2014. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  36. ^ "Canadian Screen Awards: Orphan Black, Less Than Kind, Enemy nominated". CBC News, 13 January 2014.
  37. ^ "2014 Canadian Screen Awards Gala Winners Announced" Archived 2020-10-25 at the Wayback Machine Canadian Film Centre. Accessed 17 September 2016
  38. ^ "Academy announces 2014 Canadian Screen Awards Winners during Live CBC Broadcast Gala" Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. Accessed 17 September 2016
  39. ^ "Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts Honour 8 of Canada's Best". Canada Council for the Arts. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  40. ^ 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.
  41. ^ "The Peace Patron Dinner". Mosaic Institute. 10 January 2018. Archived from the original on 2018-08-15. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  42. ^ "Vancouver Film Critics Circle names Edge of the Knife top Canadian feature film". thestar.com. 8 January 2019. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  43. ^ "Honorary Fellowship". rps.org. Retrieved 2021-04-13.
  44. ^ "Outstanding Contribution to Photography". World Photography Organisation. Retrieved 2021-11-24.
  45. ^ "Edward Burtynsky". International Photography Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2022-07-25.
  46. ^ "Edward Burtynsky". www.gallery.ca. Retrieved 2021-02-24.

General references

Further reading