Edward Burtynsky: African Studies

Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, United States
04 Mar 2023 - 22 Apr 2023

Sand Dunes #1, Sossusvlei (Detail), of Namib Desert, Namibia, 2018
Chromogenic Colour print
39 x 52 inches
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

Sand Dunes #1, Sossusvlei (Detail), of Namib Desert, Namibia, 2018 Chromogenic Colour print 39 x 52 inches Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

Edward Burtynsky’s powerful new photography series African Studies, a seven- year project spanning ten countries, will have its New York premiere with two solo gallery exhibitions this March. The exhibitions will be on view at Sundaram Tagore Gallery from March 2 through April 1 at 542 West 26th Street and at Howard Greenberg Gallery from March 4 through April 22 at 41 East 57th Street. Opening receptions will be held at Sundaram Tagore Gallery Thursday, March 2, 6 – 8 p.m. and at Howard Greenberg Gallery Saturday, March 4, 3 – 5 p.m. The artist will attend both receptions. African Studies is the subject of a 208-page monograph of the same title newly published by Steidl (2023).

Since the early 1980s, Edward Burtynsky has been photographing industrial landscapes across the globe, documenting in remarkable detail the human imprint on the planet through terraforming, extraction, urbanization and deforestation. For this project, he focused on Sub- Saharan Africa, traveling to Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Madagascar and Tanzania between 2015 and 2020.

Burtynsky’s interest in Africa was sparked 20 years ago while he was working on his landmark 2004 photographic project China, which explores the country’s rapid globalization and the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. The series, and subsequent award-winning documentary film by Jennifer Baichwal, Manufactured Landscapes (2006), chronicle China’s transformation into the world’s leading manufacturer and depository for its waste. Burtynsky witnessed firsthand the immense environmental—and by extension, human—cost of development, and he predicted Africa would be the next, and perhaps the last, region to undergo major industrial expansion.

Presented in large-format photographs, African Studies conveys the fragility of the natural world, bringing together images of lush, undisturbed landscapes and environments irretrievably altered by industry. The series was largely photographed from aerial perspectives, a viewpoint that distills the continent’s diverse topography into graphic patterns and gradients of sumptuous color. The resulting effect seemingly transforms the marks of human infrastructure into painterly abstract compositions. In these images, as in all his work, Burtynsky skillfully integrates critical reporting with sublime visual aesthetics creating a harmonious balance between content and form.

“With this project I hope to continue raising awareness about the cost of growing our civilization without the necessary consideration for sustainable industrial practices and the dire need for implementing globally organized governmental initiatives and binding international legislations in order to protect present and future generations from what stands to be forever lost,” Burtynsky said.