Friday, October 9, 2009

Oil and Overarching Visions: Interview with Ed Burtynsky

Canadian photographer Ed Burtynsky is on a major roll this fall, with a major travelling show on his decade-long oil project opening at the Corcoran last month, accompanied by a massive book from Steidl and a commercial show in Toronto at dealer Nicholas Metivier Gallery. The man is also up (2nd year running) for the Prix Pictet, a newish prize on photography and the sustainability. The winner for the prize will be announced October 22 in Paris by none other than Kofi Annan.

Recently, I had the chance to sit down the Burtynsky and ask him a bit about this huge petro project that's been keeping him busy for 10 years plus. An edited version of our conversation appears with pics from his portfolio in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q A lot of people in the oil industry likely do feel threatened by your project. What would you say to them in response?

A I've always put my images on a fairly ambiguous platform, because I think it's too simplistic a thing to say "this is good or bad." Many good things come from oil. We have our lifestyles, our homes, almost everything we touch. But I've also always been interested in cause and effect --like, we have this lifestyle so there has to be a void of equivalent size in nature to make up for that.

I think as an artist my role is to put things out there that make us ask questions. Like, do we want workers to complain about air quality in Fort McMurray? Do we as Canadians want to be the world's largest per-capita producers of CO2 pollution? How much do we have invested in the science of doing this properly? I want this artwork to be a point of departure for sobering, honest conversation about something that exists in our world-- something that we've created.

Image of Edward Burtynsky's SOCAR Oil Fields #3, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006 Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery

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