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Edward Burtynsky: Water

  • Chrysler Museum of Art (map)

For many of the pictures contained in this exhibition, internationally acclaimed photographer Edward Burtynsky first had to defy gravity. To tell the stories behind his pictures, we'll rely on his own words.

"I've absolutely liberated myself of where I get to stand. If I want to be anywhere, I will be there, I will find a way to be there. It's quite interesting when you kind of release yourself from gravity, so to speak, and find that you can make the point of view anywhere that you want it to be."

Edward Burtynsky got his first camera and darkroom at age 11, and forged a long and distinguished photographic career. The Canadian had traveled the world on two major projects, China and Oil, before turning to this one. In his drive for the perfect picture from the perfect spot, Water took five years and visits to nine countries to complete.

"I'm not really a landscape photographer, per se. I'm a photographer of human systems that are imposed upon a landscape."

The exhibition includes 58 photographs, all large (4 by 5 feet minimum), all extremely high-definition, and all composed with great skill. Many are aerial photographs, as his quest to rise above the ordinary translated into the use of planes, helicopters, drones, and even a 50-foot pneumatic mast.

"I work backwards from the subject matter to the point of view, and in this project, for the first time, completely released myself from gravity, that the point of view would be wherever it is. And that was interesting, so it was very much a global approach to the idea of water, with no restrictions as to where I could stand. ... That for me was a very interesting creative jump."

The exhibition focuses on six themes, including agriculture, aquaculture, waterfront and control. In the theme distress, scenes of great beauty are mixed with an unsettling sense that something just isn't right. For the theme source, for the first time in three decades, he was taking pictures of pristine wilderness.

"Human ingenuity and the development of its industries have allowed us to control the Earth's water in ways that were unimaginable even just a century ago. While trying to accommodate the growing needs of an expanding, and very thirsty civilization, we are reshaping the Earth in colossal ways. In this new and powerful role over the planet, we are also capable of engineering our own demise. We have to learn to think more long-term about the consequences of what we are doing, while we are doing it. My hope is that these pictures will stimulate a process of thinking about something essential to our survival, something we often take for granted—until it's gone."

This exhibition, organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art, opens Feb. 12, 2016 and runs through May 15, 2016. Admission is free.

"Water is not optional. As a liquid, it's the ultimate thing that provides for life. If it's missing, humans have to leave that area. It's as simple as that."

Later Event: February 11
Sublime. The Tremors of the World