So Much Larger than Life

So Much Larger than Life

Photographer Edward Burtynsky traverses the globe, documenting places where human ambition and intervention have eclipsed the natural world. T+L talks to the master of the Industrial Sublime.

Just as his subjects—shipyards, granite quarries, nickel mines, factories, oil refineries—are both awe-inspiring and profoundly destructive, Edward Burtynsky’s magnificent, oversize photos have the power to allure and disturb. Burtynsky attributes this tension to the "calculated ambiguity" of his approach, but there’s nothing ambiguous about industry’s recent consumption of the environment. When he began documenting the extraction of natural resources in the 1980’s, Burtynsky assumed that the materials he was photographing would be around for centuries. Today, he says, "it’s possible that we’ll have exhausted our resources much sooner than anyone had thought." His work is a reminder that even the loftiest of human projects is bound to a world of finite resources.

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