Burtynsky had two exhibitions open, each called Water, one at the Howard Greenberg Gallery and one at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. Two openings: The Greenburg gallery opened on The Fuller Building's “A Night of Photography”, Wednesday, the 18th. The Bryce Wolkowitz opened the next evening. I thought that opening in two galleries in New York was pretty ambitious, but Water has opened around the world this week – 9 countries in total! Water is a project that took 5 years to realize and looks at the impact humanity has had on our environment. Viewed through the environmentally conscious lens it's easy to see why it's opened worldwide, it has to be seen. Water is heartbreaking and devastating – humanity is essentially fucked, and we've done it to ourselves. However, when I first went to Water I had absolutely no idea what it was about, I ignored, as many do the artist statement, and happily viewed it as well done high arial shots of waterways, taken so far as to be abstractions. My favorite piece has bright green water, with stairs ascending or descending like an Escher drawing confusing and confounding. The rest of the pictures are all interesting separated from being landscapes by the height of the camera; the viewer only sees abstractions. One would not know that it was a picture of a river until they were told, and that's where the problems come in – I was not told.
The viewer is told that a set of photographs are of a river. The set of photographs shows a fertile, wet area dried up completely, in five years because of human involvement. This was my experience the second time I saw Water, I was told what the images were of, and stopped looking at them from a purely aesthetic standpoint.
This is an interesting exhibit for two reasons, the aesthetic and the realization that humanity is ruining the planet. The prints had a mathematical quality to them in the way the fractal like tributaries run and turn; the man made landscapes appear more geometric, be it circular or rectangular. The message is also an important one, and ultimately 2 galleries are not enough, this should be required reading.
The photographs are good companions to the feature length film entitled Watermark, the impact of which is utterly devastating even after seeing all the pictures.
Review by John Hutt
Photographs by Tanya Kiseleva