These seven large chromogenic photographs by Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky represent facets of his lengthy photographic exploration of the transfigured landscape. These images of farmland in Spain, stone quarries in Vermont, a tailings pond in Ontario, oil pipelines in Alberta and the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, were selected from the 15 photographs donated by the artist to Confederation Centre Art Gallery in 2011.
Burtynsky has been quoted as saying: “In 1997, I had what I refer to as my oil epiphany. It occurred to me that the vast, human-altered landscapes that I pursued and photographed for over twenty years were only made possible by the discovery of oil and the mechanical advantage of the internal combustion engine….It was then that I began the oil project. These images can be seen as notations by one artist contemplating the world as it is made possible through this vital energy resource and the cumulative effects of industrial evolution.”
Material Matters includes landscapes which have a distinct horizon line, as well as those that frame carefully composed and abstracted details found in various stone quarries. Burtynsky has used the wide aerial view to capture the much debated Athabasca region in Alberta Oil Sands # 10, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, 2007 and the unique pattern of cultivation in Dryland Farming #32, Aragon, Spain. He references both the horizon and the careful framing of landscape details in the beautiful and simultaneously troubling image, Oil Spill #10, Oil Slick, Gulf of Mexico, June 24, 2010, with its emerald green expanse of ocean streaked with black. The photographer has employed scale, pattern, colour and composition for compelling aesthetic impact-even when tackling environmental disasters. But the works are also informative; they provide a revealing link to the industrial supply line so often originating in the landscape and so often divorced from the materials of consumer culture.