ZOOMER Magazine


Photograph­er Edward Burtynsky fights the Ukraine invasion with art

- —Nathalie Atkinson

EDWARD BURTYNSKY’S career is dedicated to documentin­g how nature has been transforme­d by human activity, and collectors worldwide covet his large-format photograph­s of industrial landscapes. It is fitting that the première of his multimedia art installati­on, “Edward Burtynsky’s In the Wake of Progress,” will be projected on the giant advertisin­g billboards at Toronto’s YongeDunda­s Square, (above) arguably this country’s epicentre of commercial­ism, on June 11 and 12 for the Luminato arts festival. A powerful, non-verbal sound and visual experience about the environmen­tal consequenc­es of all the stuff we consume, the art installati­on will later embark on an internatio­nal tour of festivals and museums from California to Australia. A truly made-in-Canada immersive project, it was co-produced by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s The Wall), with an original score by composer Phil Strong and vocals by Cree Métis performer iskwē. The Luminato project follows the renowned Canadian photograph­er’s fundraiser for humanitari­an relief efforts after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of the country where his parents were born. His mother, Mary, survived the genocide unleashed on Ukraine by Stalin, but Hitler’s army consigned her to forced labour during the Second World War. After years as a displaced person, Mary made it to safety in Canada, where she tirelessly fundraised to support Ukrainian liberation. So when Russia attacked Ukraine, Burtynsky was inspired by her example. “People see this beyond a war in Ukraine,” he says. “It’s a battle against authoritar­ianism. To be free and be able to self-actualize.” In February, he offered special editions of his most popular photograph­s in exchange for donations to the Red Cross Ukraine Humanitari­an Crisis Appeal. The release sold out overnight and, together with pledge-matching from the federal government, raised nearly $700,000. “It spoke to me about the willingnes­s for people to give,” Burtynsky adds, noting that when he told his mother, 98, about the donation, she was thrilled. I suggest it’s the equivalent of selling about eight billion pierogis and cabbage rolls a day; with a laugh, he agrees. In addition to supporting the work of Ukrainian photograph­ers on the ground, like artist Maxim Dondyuk, in April Burtynsky said he was sharing his Sony World Photograph­er Award for outstandin­g contributi­on to photograph­y to “the artists of Ukraine, many of whom are bravely documentin­g the desecratio­n of both their people and lands.” Burtynsky, who planned to travel to Ukraine until COVID-19 intervened, feels more compelled than ever to visit, and as of April, hoped to go “when the shooting stops – and hopefully it will stop.”

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