Edward Burtynsky: ‘We can’t all live off the land, so we’re kind of in a pickle’

By Nancy Durrant
The Times

Sometimes there is only one feasible response when someone shows you a cool thing, and that is: “Woah!” I’m standing in the downtown Toronto studio of the photographer Edward Burtynsky, pointing an iPad at a target on the floor. The artist and his partner, Julia Johnston (who also works in the studio), are looking on and laughing, because I’m amazed. There’s nothing on the floor, but through the iPad I can see, walk around and peer into a 3D pile of discarded car tyre rims. It’s from a scrapyard in Accra, Ghana, and is made of tens of thousands of images stitched together by recently developed, powerful software to create this uncanny experience. Burtynsky reaches politely over my shoulder and shows me how to flip between several — what, images? Scenes? I don’t even know the right word — all pin-sharp. I say “woah” again.

This augmented-reality installation will be part of Burtynsky’s exhibition at Photo London, which runs from Thursday to Sunday next week at Somerset House. The artist has been named the annual fair’s master of photography (previous winners of the award include Taryn Simon, Don McCullin and Sebastião Salgado), which recognises a photographer’s stature and impact — or, as Burtynsky puts it when I ask what he thinks it means: “Longevity, persistence, quality. Not giving up.”

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