A Thirsty Civilization: Our Risky Relationship With Water in Photographs by Edward Burtynsky

Landscape with sea, shore, and skySalton Sea #1, Eastern Shore, California 2009

Edward Burtynsky’s stunning water photographs are aren’t exactly pretty. The Canadian photographer’s aerial shots show a planet fractured and gouged to quench humanity’s thirst. From the arid Texas landscape neatly irrigated into geometric greenery to the tragic oil sweeping the Gulf of Mexico, the photographs offer an almost journalistic account of a civilization grappling with the planet’s least renewable resource: water. “Water is intermittently introduced as a victim, a partner, a protagonist, a lure, a source, an end, a threat and a pleasure,” said Russel Lord, the New Orleans Museum of Art’s photography curator.

Burtynsky’s photographs acknowledge a growing civilization’s need for water while warning us that we may engineer it out of existence. He says in his artist statement:

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.”

Burtynsky’s photographs have been displayed in major art institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Reina Sofia in Madrid. In 2005, Burtynsky won the TED Prize.


Colorado River Delta #8

Salinas, Baja, Mexico 2012

Rectangular Colored Patches Along River Delta


Phosphor Tailings Pond #2

Polk County, Florida 2012

Unnaturally colored water


Oil Spill #4

Oil Skimming Boat Near Ground Zero, Gulf of Mexico June 24, 2010

Aerial Photograph of a boat on ocean with oil


Pivot Irrigation #11

High Plains, Texas Panhandle 2011

Landscape appears in brown and green geographic shapes


Pivot Irrigation/Suburb

South of Yuma, Arizona 2011

Desert with a suburb and a two circles of greenery


Benidorm #1

Spain, 2010

Beach crowded with umbrellas

Images courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg Gallery, Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York

via TreeHugger

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