Monday, November 25, 2013

Documentary? Art?

The carefully orchestrated release of Burtynsky: Water, a body of work from the Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky includes a book, a movie screened in Canada, an app for I Pads and his large chromogenic prints can be acquired through art galleries from New York to Germany and in New Orleans at the Arthur Roger Gallery. The New Orleans Museum of Art presents more than sixty pieces, located  in the Great Hall and on the second and third floor of the Contemporary Arts Center. With such a title, the exhibition cannot leave New Orleanians indifferent.  Describing the interaction between people and water from Mexico, India, China, the Gulf of Mexico and other places, Burtynsky brings us on a world tour with transcending pictures taken from high-vantage points, climbing scaffolds, mountains, riding airplanes and accomplishing technical feats to show us mainly landscapes from a point of view only he can see.

The awe-inspiring views of the land are a reflection on the interaction between people and a precious resource, water. The human presence is felt in a number of photographs, looming and threatening, represented only by its marks left on the fragile land. If people are included, like gathering along the water in India, it is always in a crowd. No emotions or personal interactions are recorded and humans are viewed as "material", seen from a distance in large number, producing a mass effect. The photographs can bring up awe but also sobering reflections when looking at Owens Lake, 2009, or Alberta Oil Sands, Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada, 2007, with the oil sheen  smothering the water and closer to home, the aqua green of the Gulf of Mexico spoiled by the black tar, heartbreaking.  Burtynsky clearly states his goal: " My hope is that these pictures will stimulate a process of thinking about something essential to our survival; something we often take for granted-till it's gone." He took great care to present aesthetically flawless material to make his point.

A sweeping view of the display could be deceiving at first due to the large format of the photographs (40's X 60's inches)), the colors and shapes. Could it be abstract paintings hanging on the walls, minimalist like the series of Pivot Irrigation, High Plains, Texas, 2010 or Dryland Framing, Aragon, Spain, 2010, expressionist like Xiaolandi Dam #3, Yellow River, Henan Province in China, 2011, or hyperrealist? A farmer looking at the photographs would see the result of his work. The viewer cannot avoid interpreting the pictures at different levels and by doing so, adds another dimension and intend to the photographs.
Robert Smithson was creating land art, using the land as a media to create art. Burtynsky's path is different. His background education allows him to "see" shapes, colors in nature and record his vision of the interaction between humanity and nature.
The photographs are sold by art galleries and acquired by museum, so it is art. They could as well be included in National Geographic to illustrate a documentary.

Art? Documentary? Both?

no photographs allowed
link to Burtynsky's site for photographs:

1 comment:

RajkumarChandan said...

nice post. it is so much informational and helpful for me.
i like concept of famous art galleries