Seeing art in water

Seeing art in water

Five years and more than 25,000 images.

That is what it took award- winning Canadian photographer and artist Edward Burtynsky to present his Water series.

In town for the Singapore premiere of his documentary film Watermark at Sundaram Tagore Gallery last week, the approachable Burtynsky told

Life! he wanted to "test the very limits of technology", while illustrating the impact of manufacturing and human consumption on the world's rapidly depleting water supplies.

Eventually, 100 photographs from the initial 25,000 made the cut for what he calls his "largest, most ambitious and most challenging" project to date.

Thirty-five photographs from the Water series are now on show in his solo exhibition that runs at the gallery in Gillman Barracks, off Alexandra Road, till Sunday.

The 90-minute documentary, shown last week for the first time in South-east Asia, was also shot by him. It is about his global journey to capture human impact on water supplies.

Burtynsky, 59, looked a little tired when he sat down to speak to Life!. But his relaxed and easy-going manner showed he puts people first, even after the screening of his film and the post-show dialogue. He did not say no to anyone who asked for a signature or a photograph, whether at the gallery or during a late dinner hosted by gallerist Sundaram Tagore at Masons restaurant in Gillman Barracks.

The international touring exhibition Water opened at the New Orleans Museum Of Art & Contemporary Art Center in the United States last year. After Singapore, it heads to Hong Kong.

Tagore, who also owns galleries in New York and Hong Kong, explained: "We wanted to introduce Singaporeans to a world-renowned photographer and to address the social issues that we find to be important and pertinent."

The images are not only socially conscious but have also been commercially successful. Over half the works at the gallery, priced between US$18,000 (S$22,700) and US$45,000 and available in editions of 10, have been sold.

For Burtynsky, Water is not a project that was born in isolation.

Growing up in wildlife-rich Canada, he said he first started documenting the impact of mining activity on the landscape as early as the 1980s. This was followed by the documentation of quarries.

"It is all connected in a way," he said reflectively.

"I think the most immediate and direct connections perhaps happened when I was working on oil refineries as well as the documentation of the ship-breaking industry in Bangladesh in early 2000. These projects took time and they allowed me to see how connected our world is.

"When I started documenting mines, the world's population was about 3.5 billion. We now have more than seven billion people on the planet. As a photographer, this interests me. I want to explore how our presence and what we do impact our planet."

But he likes to make his point subtly.

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