New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 42 October 30 to November 5, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Guilty Pleasures
Edward Burtynsky
Water

Photo by Edward Burtynsky . Source: edwardburtynsky.com © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg Gallery, and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New YorkEdward Burtynsky, "Rice Terraces #3ab, Western Yunnan Province, China" 2012

Stepping into the Edward Burtynsky exhibiton at the Bryce Walkowitz Gallery in Chelsea you are immediately greeted with a huge color diptych of terraced rice paddies in China and alarm bells start going off. There are just entirely too many beautifully laid out terraces, all in incredibly sharp focus, glimmering in the sun, for this to be anything but a Photoshop creation. Has Burtynsky, who has been making entirely straight landscape photographs for nearly 30 years, been seduced by the multi-million dollar prices paid for those Andreas Gursky ‘landscapes’? Has the need to again demonstrate that photographs are unreliable narrators, an itch that so many younger photographers find the need to incessantly scratch, been too strong for Burtynsky to resist?

Photo by Edward Burtynsky . Source: brycewolkowitz.com © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg Gallery, and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New YorkEdward Burtynsky, "Colorado River Delta #2

Near San Felipe, Baja, Mexico" 2012

You start to look more closely. One of the appeals of the Gursky oeuvre is discovering the discrepancies and repetitions that he uses to build up his fantastic, but entirely realistic-looking scenes. You begin to compare the curves of the rice paddies and the particular bend of trees and bushes. There are a few sharpening artifacts here and there, these are digital photographs, but no smoking guns. This scene looks like it could be a very straight, and entirely fantastic, photograph.

You move on to an aerial image of the Colorado River delta: a giant cauliflower with branches going off into the distance. Again, there are repeating patterns across the width of the print, but, jeez, none of them seem be cloned. Could it be that the image we are seeing in this photograph is more or less what the Colorado River delta looked like on a particular day at a particular time?

By the time we get to the large rear gallery, frankly these kinds of thoughts have receded, and we are in now in another, more primitive state of mind. We have become slack-jawed gawkers, marveling at the complexity, order, and sheer spectacle that Burtynsky has been able to discover and present.

Photo by Edward Burtynsky . Source: howardgreenberg.com © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg Gallery, and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New YorkEdward Burtynsky, "Pivot Irrigation / Suburb, South of Yuma, Arizona, USA" 2011

There is a theme to this show––water––and in particular how humans have altered the shape and breadth of the earth in order to manipulate, access, or extract it. But, just as he has done with other themes such as oil and quarrying, Burtynsky does not place his environmentalist concerns above his artistic ones-–patterns and colors in the world. It is an ego-less approach, which is mirrored in his transparent technique. He trusts the viewer to understand and savor the complexity and contradictions of the scenes he presents.

Photo by Edward Burtynsky . Source: edwardburtynsky.com Edward Burtynsky, "Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi, India" 2013

In a somewhat new vein for Burtynsky, there are several pictures where the scale comes down to the human level. We are given a detailed view of Manikarnika Ghat along the Ganges river in Varanasi. We see funeral pyres, stacks of wood, cows and scores of people, working on the fires, talking on their cell phones, mourning, taking pictures, or just watching. The immediacy of the image depends to some extent on sheer technical bravura, to some extent on the eye of Burtynsky, and to a large extent on the trust that has been built up between the viewer and the photographer. Yes, this is how the world really looks.

In today’s art world it is a bit of a guilty pleasure to enjoy a show like this––unselfconscious, interested in the world outside of galleries and museums, not demanding that we pay as much attention to the artist as to the putative subject, and not overly interested in how pictures promote one political, literary or philosophical position or another. There is room for all types of photography, but if you need a little bit of substance once in a while, there is no better choice than Burtynsky.

Edward Burtynsky
Water


Bryce Wolkowitz
505 W 24th St.
Chelsea         Map

212 243 8830
brycewolkowitz.com

Monday, September 16 to
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Hours: Tues-Sat, 10 to 6
Share

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat