Representative of his entire career, and referencing his series on Recycling, Burtynsky's Shipbreaking series strikes an intricate balance between a somber sociological reportage and a powerfully abstract and seductive aesthetic. In his photographs, the eerily sublime and otherworldly palette of the Indian Ocean becomes a backdrop for the monumental debris that litters the ship-breaking yards. Beneath this colossal landscape, awash with subtle colors and stark geometry, stands the image of the Bangladeshi laborers. They have been swept into the Lilliputian task of dismantling these industrial relics with little more than their bare hands. As viewers, we are asked to ponder the irony and the complexity of this grand cycle of creation and destruction.
Born in St. Catharines, Ontario in 1955, Edward Burtynsky graduated from Ryerson Polytechnical University in Toronto with a B.A. in Photographic Arts. His work will be the subject of an upcoming career retrospective, with catalog, at the National Gallery of Ottawa, Ontario (2003); and has been exhibited at institutions including the McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton, Ontario (2000); the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa, Ontario (1996); the Vancouver Museum, Vancouver, British Columbia (1991); and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (1989). His work is in many collections including those of the Bibliotheque National, Paris, France; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, Quebec.