Water – Edward Burtinsky

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Well here is my first “official” post as part of the TAOP course.

While I have been to galleries / exhibitions before, it has always been as a passive observer, taking in the art internally, maybe at the most enthusing about it afterwards to friends and colleagues.  So having to proactively comment, let alone critique, is a novel and somewhat daunting experience.   A valuable lesson was learnt in that I need to improve my handwriting/legibilityof my notes

The exhibition consists of fourteen prints of at least five by four feet in size.  The scale of the photos and the subject matter (I viewed the exhibits initially without a guide and formed my own conclusion as what the subject was) take some time to take in, particularly the more abstract photos.

The front of house photo is Xiaolangdi Dam #1 (see above).  It shows a massive plume of water that erupts horizontally from the diagonal face of the dam.  In the background, contrasting the force of the jetting water, is a much gentler spray or mist.  The detail is superb (a small water bottle on the dam wall is clearly visible and gives you some sense of scale – as do the railings on the dam structure.  I wondered whether the former was included deliberately to show the opposite spectrums of water management, but may have been just a happy accident.)

Inside the gallery the first shot was Mount Edziza Provincial Park #1 an almost monochrome shot with the exception of streaks of rust coloured rock in the foreground and scattered at various points over the range.   I liked the recession of the range disappearing into the clouds at the top left corner and the crocodile head structure (I wondered if I was the only one to see this) of the rock in the centre of the photo.

The next two shots were similar fast exposure shots – Xiaolangdi Dam #2 and Xiaolangdi Dam #3 – and I initially thought that the dark mass in centre left of the shot was a tree but realised on closer inspection that it was another darker spray of water.  This, to me, gave #2 a point of reference that #3 lacked.  I found the light grey blue areas in the top of both of these photos to be a (minor) distraction.

Stepwell #4 reminded me of Echer’s Ascending and Descending for some reason.  There appears to be no purpose to the steps except to reach the detritus at the bottom.  Again the detail is very high with little  splashes of paint on the steps.  I liked the dead branch in the top centre of the shot as the only representation of nature in the shot  Like the water bottle mentioned above I wondered if this was deliberate.

The shot of Colorado River Delta #1 reminded me of the structure of a lung, and there is nothing to indicate any kind of scale in the photo unlike Dryland Farming#13 which reminded me of cave paintings, until looking closer you notice there are two big sheds at the top of the shot.  If these were cropped out however the abstract effect would be complete.  For me, I prefer a point of reference, to give me an idea of both scale and the point from which the shot was taken, and therefore, of these two I prefer the latter.  I found the pale area in the top left side of Colorado River Delta #1 to be a distraction and wonder whether a shot comprising of the just the gray mud(?) and white river would have been more effective.  In contrast Colorado River Delta #2 works for me as it can viewed as a tree branching out and taking you up into the shot.  The sandstone again adds a variance of colour.

Of the fourteen shots the two I found the least interesting were the Glacial Runoff #1 and Olfusa River #1 as these are pure abstract shots and I was not able to get as involved in these as I was in the other photos on display.  Having said that I puzzled as to what all the white dots in Olfusa River #1 were but that was my only involvement in the shot.

Pivot Irrigation Suburb on the other hand I found fascinating (particularly at first look when i was unaware of what it was.) Both the patterns of the fields and the houses in radial pattern in the squares looked like some sort of crop circle design.  Again the detail in the shot is very high and the individual details of the house are easily distinguishable.  I was struck by the thought that except from the air none of this would be able to be seen and also the sense of isolation of the community that the photo suggests.

I also enjoyed Rice Terraces #2 with the focal point of the red area in the centre and the various huts scattered in the shot.  It had an interesting slope going out of the frame in the bottom right of the shot with a huge rock randomly located in of the rice fields.  I’m not sure when the shot was taken but it was interesting to note that there are no discernible figures in this shot as in all the others.

Dryland Farming #27 reminded me of Colorado River Delta #2 with the main motorway going through the centre of the shot drawing in your eye along the road possibly at the expense of the rest of the shot and wondered whether in this instance a portrait format would have suited the subject better.  Other than a tiny red building there is no really vibrant colour in the shot.  Finally, Greenhouses amazes you once you realise what the subject is – a vast expanse of greenhouses, indicated just how vast by the town in the top right and the cars and trucks that can be seen on closer scrutiny.  The topping of the clouds in the distance kept me in the picture and looking for further details.

I came away from the exhibit having enjoyed all the displayed pictures and questioning whether my enjoyment was based on the pictures themselves or the technique used (i.e aerial shots from helicopter or remote) or a mixture of both.  At least three of them, Xiaolangdi Dam #1, Pivot Irrigation Suburb and Greenhouses made an impact on me but, of these, only the first is because I liked the picture per se without any consideration as to how it was taken.

 

Addendum 3 December 2013

As this was my first blog asked for comments from the OCA community and it was rightly pointed out that I had not considered what the exhibition was about and what Mr Burtinsky was trying to say with these shots and others in his book Water.

His artist statement from that book is “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.”

In my view the shots in the display, in the main achieved this. I say in the main, as I consider the more abstract shots Glacial Runoff #1 ; Olfusa River #1 ; Colorado River Delta #1; Colorado River Delta #1 and Colorado River Delta #2 do not for me, as a viewer, make the connection between what is shown and human activity but this may well be as I was viewing them, at the time, without any context. On the other hand Xiaolangdi Dam #1 and Pivot Irrigation Suburb indicate the effects of human management of water, the former by showing how engineering has harnessed the power of the water and channelled it, while the latter shows the impact on the landscape (albeit one that might not usually be seen) by methods of irrigation as indeed does Rice Terraces #2 . The remaining shots are perhaps less obvious in achieving the objectives the photographer has set out but, on consideration, are probably as effective. In particular Greenhouses leaves you with the thought that area has been massively altered as a result of human need.

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