A Conversation with Edward Burtynsky

5 October 2016 § Leave a comment

This conversation is also published on CELLOPHANELAND

We are here at the Flowers Gallery at the preview of your new exhibition as well as the launch of your new book and here downstairs is an exhibition of the new Salt Pans series. Meanwhile in the upstairs gallery there is a second exhibition is entitled Essential Elements, and this also is the name of the new Thames & Hudson book written by William Ewing. Can you tell us some more about it?

This is an idea that began about five years ago. Thames and Hudson wanted to produce a book that would take a whole different approach to looking at my work. So Bill started coming to the studio about three years ago. He literally looked at almost everything i ever did – I gave him my binders where I keep all my work and contact sheets and so on so he had a complete look through everything. Interestingly of all the different people that have ever been to the studio he spent the longest of anyone. In all over a longer period of time Bill probably spent a total of over a month in the studio.

I understand that he took quite a different approach to make this book.

One thing I do is that I tend to work in series, like here with Salt Pans which is a complete and discrete series, shot over a period of time. I then would made in to a book and it is promoted around the world. However Bill wanted to disregard these series and was just looking at the images as he found fit. He was looking at the juxtapositions as it made sense conceptually, together or aesthetically or visually – colour wise, line wise, form wise, composition wise and so on.

Also interesting was that there was no chronology – he didn’t care whether it was early work or late work or whatever so mixed that up too. The third interesting thing that he did was that he took a whole body of work that has remained quiet up to now. This is a body of work that I have been working on my entire life which is architecture and design. I still use the things that I’ve learned in shooting architecture – I was shooting urban architecture in China for example. I have always had architecture as part of what I did as an artist, but its never been brought in to my convention artwork thus far. He interleaved that work as well and brought it in to the book to be seen into a different light.

Do you see this books as a mid-career retrospective. 

It is not really a retrospective per se – its really a way to look at the work and look at it from the sense of its visual subject matter and how they fit together. He found that even through all these different subjects there was a kind of persistence of vision and a consistency of seeing so that as I jumped across all these things there are things that carry over. He is taking us away from the content and more into visual aspects. Its been a real fun project.

He has also been looking at all the review and essays that have been done, and some dissertations that have been done of my work and found some really interesting excerpts. It is good to have these kernels of ideas that all come from different perspectives. So I’m really excited that this is the very first launch of the book and you are the first to see and first to experience

Edward Burtynsky Flowers Gallery Salt Pans Essential ElementsIs there something that you can tell us about working with Bill and about how personally you felt looking back at all this work and looking at all these different series.

It is really interesting. It is great to work with somebody who is able to look at you full body of work – a deep look at everything I have done. Sometimes he would unearth something and I would say yeah, its nice but not something I would want published! So sometimes we had to be able to navigate choices. In the book itself there are the very iconic works, but on the other hand, a lot of it – and I would say at least 50% – has never been published before. About 25% of it was completely new so there are some new pieces that we have discovered through working and collaborating with him

Did it make you think differently about the way you were working or make you change anything?

Interestingly I think that moment of real change happened for me in 2003. At that time I felt I was just working in discrete projects quarries, mines and so on. I was thinking that these were discrete things and at that moment I really saw the consistency of the subject matter. I then started seeing it all kind of stitched together that way. In the book what is interesting is seeing things that were never meant to be juxtaposed together.

For example we have in the exhibition a picture of Houston from 1987 and right beside it is a mined landscape from 2007. Even though there are twenty years between it is keeps you on your toes. Playing in all kinds of different ways there is a fundamental connection between the two images.

Did it make you reflect on the changes from analogue to digital, because during the period of the book there have been big changes in photography itself?

In some ways not really, because even though there was that transition from large format on the ground it is all about the image. Practically thought with analogue I would shoot two 8 x10 frames at a time and thats a whole ton of reloading. It was also really expensive – one holder would do just one shot, and this is in the early 90’s, costing $30 per frame before I even printed it up. It was a huge commitment for one picture – I would be sweating over what picture I was going to make!  I would maybe make two or three shots a day. I would sit there and wait for hours because back in analogue days if you didn’t get the contrast and light and clarity just so…! With film you just have to wait for conditions to be perfect – I would sometimes go back 2 or 3 times to the selfsame location for the same shot. Digital is very different. I’m in the helicopter and all I have to do is to put in one bit of media in and I get 300 frames – so all that happens is that have I sometimes have to change my battery,

Along with the increased resolution of digital there are also all the extra tools of editing software.

I have to say that I don’t use photoshop as a compositional tool – only as a printing tool. I am interested in the fact that these are visions of our real world. When i used to make prints in an enlarger I only had three controls: density, sharpness and colour. Now I get to control every square inch of the picture and so I’m controlling the surface of the print in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in an analogue way. Every square inch of the picture is being considered.There are all kinds of things that I can do today that I couldn’t do before. Its a whole new world as a print-maker.

I don’t even have an enlarger any more. When I went back and looked at earlier work for Essential Elements I had to scan them in and remaster. I would ignore the old master prints from that negative and then afterwards put those images side by side, and effectively they’re different images. Im getting the print that I wish I could have got back then! So the technology has been liberating

Over time you seem to have steadily moved away from your subjects. Are you worried about to some degree losing the hand of the artist/photographer as you do so?  

I dont know. I’ve gone up higher but you can make out farms and stuff but I’m interested in the fact that you can always go to the print and still understand the scale and see the people, if you look carefully. As soon as you go too high and can’t make out vehicles and people then that would become more pattern and more detached but I’m always trying to be at the critical distance where you can unpack the image and make out the landscape and still visually dig in and make out whats going on.

Edward Burtynsky Flowers Gallery Salt Pans Essential ElementsHow do you see the Salt Flats series? Is it a chapter in a larger project?

I think its a stand alone series. In Salt Flats this is a pretty benign effect we are having on the landscape – if is stopped within a decade you would never know anyone was ever there. I’m working on the anthropocene but it doesn’t really fit as the things that we are looking at are those that will leave a signature in a million years. where were leaving evidence from plastics, concrete, glass, tunnels and so on.

How did you come to shoot the Salt Flats series?

I’ve known about these things for a few years and I kept thinking I’ve gotta go so I decided – go! I was doing work in Africa and I had a window of 10 days between two shoots and so planned this shoot. I did about 4 flights. It’s a military zone so its very hard and took an lot of angling to get unlimited flying in their area. I was able to shoot on the ground but it wasn’t nearly as interesting. For me it was a visual exploration of this space. My work has never really been on that documentary level so I would not do a story on the people on their plight – this is about how we as humans extract resources. So it’s following from that sort of work, whether its mines, quarries, agriculture, salt – so its in that category.

Edward Burtynsky Flowers Gallery Salt Pans Essential ElementsThey are very abstract images. I think a lot of Paul Klee.

I love Paul Klee and was thinking Paul Klee in this! The subject allowed for this abstraction and I’ve always been interested in it. With my Water series in particular it allowed me to look at abstraction in a way that other subjects didn’t allow. With water when i first started in 2008 I rented an 80ft bucket and I realised very quickly that to understand the scale at which we start to reshape the landscape a bucket wasn’t enough. It didn’t tell the story so you had to get up 600/800 feet to to see the irrigation shaping the desert.You can sit on the ground and see the irrigation and farms but it doesn’t read as well as at 1000 feet – from that perspective you really understand. The subject matter pushed me up. When I’m up there I’m always always interested in abstraction and abstract expressionism and all-overness

Are you worried that these images just become viewed just like abstracts and any environmental angle gets lost?

These are pretty benign. With the Salt Pans I don’t think there is a great environmental message and I’m happy for people just to view them as they like. They are just whimsical.

 

Salt Pans and Essential Elements are showing at Flowers Gallery until 29 October 2016

All images are © Edward Burtynsky 2016. Courtesy Flowers Gallery, London / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto.

Edward Burtynsky: Essential Elementsedited and curated by William A. Ewing is published by Thames & Hudson, 15 September 2016, £45.00 hardback (www.thamesandhudson.com);

 

Q & A with Nuno Moreira, Photographer

29 January 2014 § Leave a comment

Nuno Moreira is a talented Portuguese photographer who has recently published ‘State of Mind’ – a photobook reviewed recently in akickupthearts here. We asked him a few questions about his work, influences and Japan, where he is currently based.

Q. I note that you are currently in Tokyo promoting “State Of Mind” and have worked there in the past. Do you have a specific attachment to Japan?

I’m based in Tokyo and happily living here with my Japanese wife. I intend on staying for a little longer and develop more work both with photography and art direction. Since I came here I’ve been trying to gather a circle of fellow artist friends and possibly delve into partnerships that can be enriching for everyone.

Tokyo is a great city to live and work, I made the entire editing of “State of Mind” here during last year. Everything is very functional, stable and tidy. Sometimes it gets way too much but I still have a lot to discover and the traditional aspects of Japanese society and the ancient daily rituals are really the motif that brought me here in the first place.

stateofmind11

Q. On the Japanese theme, your work has formal similarities with the great Daido Moriyama’s work – that is high contrast, black & white images, often from unusual viewpoints. Did he influence you in any way?

I should probably say thank you for the compliment, but Moriyama is really not an influence in my work. I appreciate his style, most of the times I find it over repetitive even though I acknowledge his importance in contemporary photography. The formal aspects are similar, we both shoot in black and white and many street scenes but in terms of mood it’s quite different. If I had to characterize my style – which seems like an awful thing to do – I would say it draws more influences from classic cinema, perhaps similar with the Nouvelle Vague movement where everything is more loose and unconventional but still leading somewhere.

Q. Are there other photographers – or artists – who have been particularly influential?

I like the work of Charles Harbutt quite a lot. And the funny thing is that I discovered Harbutt’s work the first time I came to Japan while browsing through an antique shop. I found his 1973 book, “Travelog” totally by accident and thought we had many things in common. Especially the way of overlooking the city and people in a cinematic way. Funny enough, I couldn’t really predict that one year later I would be moving to Japan, editing my own photo book, and that I would have a recommendation from Harbutt himself on the book.

nuno moreira

Q. Travelling seems to be an important, or even vital, part of your life. How does this manifest itself in your work?

That’s correct, I’ve come to realize that traveling plays a vital role in my life. I need the sense of dislocation to actually feel more in control of my body and regain consciousness on where I am going and what I intend to do next. I think being stuck in one place doing the same thing is something that really doesn’t work for me and most artists I know. Being in a place for the first time, even if for a short period, opens this gigantic window of possibilities where perception works in a different way. I like these shifts in reality and the challenges that follow change. I also feel there’s many insights and more mental activity deriving from the different inputs in new places therefore I take a lot more pictures and my mind is usually much clearer and faster when traveling. Life is all about movement, don’t you think?

Q. This is a book that was many years in the making. At what point did you realise that there was a photo book that would emerge from these images? Did you have a conscious plan for it from the beginning?

I didn’t have a plan to make this book until I actually started to gather all the photos and seeing them in perspective. In that sense I could say “State of Mind” works as a kind of monograph of what I’ve been shooting and seeing for the last 5 years.

nuno moreira

Q. Another Japanese photographic artist who has been prominent recently is Rinko Kawauchi. She is famed as a master of editing, bringing together a series of widely varied images, to create something new and meaningful – a particularly skill relevant to the art form that is the photo book. How important is editing  to you? / How did you approach the editing of your own work?

I’m familiar with Rinko Kawauchi’s work and her editing and image sequencing is indeed interesting and sometimes surprising. Unfortunately there’s many other astonishing Japanese photographers who are not so well known and deserve credit, being my personal favorite probably Issei Suda.

The editing of “State of Mind” was perhaps the most difficult part and what took me the most time to accomplish. The process of editing basically consisted of putting images side by side and choosing the best rhythm and flow between them. This was something I had to do physically, with printed images. It’s utterly impossible to work only in digital terms, at least for me. I wanted the book to follow a specific narrative even though there’s different images and some jumps here and there. Sometimes images in a spread form a dialogue, sometimes they need to be isolated and stand alone against a white facing page. To find the right flow or visual path for a photo book is not an easy thing, so I think it really makes sense if the photographer can work with a proper designer and someone who is not so emotionally close with the images. If I would do the book today it would probably look different but I suppose that’s part of the learning curve.

Q. “State of Mind” features many single people isolated in urban environments – looking, thinking, passing by. There is often an evident sadness and loneliness, but also hope. What are the feelings that you want the reader to see in this collection of work?

I’ve been listening to what people think of this book and the series and it’s very interesting because it really works as a mirror to whatever you’re feeling at the moment you see them. It’s the projective power of images. I guess I like lonely people in general and that’ what attracts me to shoot them in the first place, the reason might be because my parents only had me and I was raised in an environment where I would play all by myself. Having said this, the images in the book have a lot of me in it even though that’s not clearly obvious.

There’s really no specific message to the reader. I just want the viewer to be engaged in the scenes and get into the poetic quality of the people they’re looking at. If I can capture the attention and make you imagine situations like frames from a movie, if that’s sufficient to trigger the imagination, I’m very satisfied.

Q. This is a book ideally suited to the atmosphere generated by BW imagery. Do you also work in colour?

Very rarely do I shoot with color film. Sometimes when I want to try something different I do it, but I find better results almost always by shooting black and white. I believe the reason being that it’s easier for me to see the world and what would work better in black and white. It’s more neutral and the different shades of grey also interest me. Besides, I believe when we’re looking at a black and white image our eye is less distracted and we can enjoy better to look at the lines, composition, structure, light, shadows, textures and overall atmosphere.

Q. An obvious question. Whats next?

Next is promoting this book and doing exhibitions and distribution. I’ve put a lot of myself into this project and being a self-published book means I have to do all the work and communication by myself. It’s not a bad thing, but it demands a lot of time I could be shooting or thinking of more work.

If all goes according with plan, I estimate to have a new book ready in one or two years. It will continue from where this one started but something perhaps more conceptual and hopefully a step further.

nuno moreira state of mind

State of Mind by Nuno Moreira

  • 287 x 200mm
  • 112 pages with 79 photographs
  • Limited to 500 copies
  • ISBN 978-989-20-4151-3
  • 35 Euro

Copies may be purchased directly from the artist at www.nmphotos.org or email info@nmdesign.org

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