Moment: Ed Burtynsky's Water

Photographer Edward Burtynsky’s latest project shows us the big picture of what’s pouring through fashion, beauty, culture and politics

October Water 1

Colorado River Delta #2, Near San Felipe, Baja, Mexico 2011. Damming has turned the delta, once a verdant flood plain teeming with life, into an arid salt flat. “It’s in the shape of a tree,” says Burtynsky, “as if nature has drawn what is gone”

When Toronto-based global art star Edward Burtynsky makes his monolithic photographs depicting man’s impact on nature, which often require James Bond–ish moves such as shooting from low-flying helicopters with the doors ripped off, he’s not thinking of clothes, or FLARE’s back page. But when we saw his latest series on water—following those on the ravages left by the oil and mining industries—we instantly knew it was the moment. Water is in the air. Water is the new air, as we move beyond CO2 emissions to grapple with the effects of damming, pollution and global warming on an essential support system. It’s called the Blue Marble for a reason.

As is so often the case, fashion has tapped into the collective unconscious. The resort collections overflowed with water references, from literal pictures of water to wave-like layers of blue shades. Prada made the wet look the cornerstone of the beauty looks on their fall runway, and Biotherm is producing charity editions of its products, the proceeds of which will go to Mission Blue to preserve the Ross Sea.

Burtynsky reads our fate in water. “Canada’s not an oil nation. We’re a water country,” he says on the phone from his Toronto Image Works multimedia hub. “Between the Great Lakes and the two million other lakes, we possess or are connected to 33 percent of the world’s known fresh water. We are going to become the envy of the world when it starts drying up. People are going to want to come here because of the water. It’s clear to me that that’s our future.”

See Water at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery through Oct. 12. Watermark, Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary, opens across Canada on Oct. 11.

October Water 2

Art mimics life.