Carleton University Art Gallery CUAG

Edward Burtynsky: China Photographs

Curated by Diana Nemiroff

23 November 2009 – 07 February 2010

Working at sites throughout Canada and around the world, Edward Burtynsky has produced a compelling body of photographs of nature transformed through industry that has won him international acclaim. Edward Burtynsky: China Photographs features a fascinating selection of twenty-two large-scale images from the powerful series of photographs he made over the past decade documenting China’s transformation into a global manufacturing and industrial power.

The exhibition opens with images of the Three Gorges Dam – a project that forever changed the face of the Yangtze River and the lives of the people living on its banks. While this controversial project has provided an important new source of electricity for China’s industries, it has also meant the submerging of rich agricultural lands and historic cultural sites as well as the relocation of over a million people. During subsequent trips to China Burtynsky set out to create a portrait of the 21st-century industrial giant that China has rapidly become since the initial planning of the Dam began. He documented every aspect of its growth – from the Dam project to its shipyards, its steel and coal industries, its old factories and its new manufacturing sector, recycling, and urban renewal.

China offered Burtynsky enterprise on a scale that suited his artistic vision as well as his journalistic intent. Its new cities bristle with recently erected skyscrapers; its manufacturing facilities present endless ranks of brightly clad workers. His Three Gorges Dam photographs are a systematic and comprehensive document of the lengths to which the Chinese are prepared to sweep away the old to make way for the new. Beyond the documentary, the China photographs are a compelling artistic expression of the monumental transformation he encountered. Through an emphasis on scale combined with an equal insistence on detail, Burtynsky captures the energy of this rising global power in images whose visual richness and power can be compared with the similarly ambitious history paintings of the past.

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