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Can I get a Witness?

Through large-format photographs, and over the course of several decades, Edward Burtynsky has chronicled the massive impact of manufacturing on the environment. Since the early 1980s, he has been documenting sites in Ontario, across Canada and internationally. Most recently, he has focused on global oil fields as well as the dramatic impact increasing demands for fresh water has on our landscapes. Often photography from an aerial perspective, he masterfully captures natural light conditions, illuminating the subjects without glorifying them. Through compelling and immersive visuals, he draws sustained and urgent attention to the complex effects of human life on this earth.

Currently on view at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Witness, takes key pieces from Burtynsky’s body of work including Alberta oil sands; Carrera marble quarries in Italy; ship disassembly in Bangladesh; and the building of a massive dam in China.
Despite the compelling photography and god-like views, the simple labeling of the exhibit as to what information is for each piece is horribly done. The natural way a viewer comes into the gallery and walks around the space is not taken into consideration. The curator or exhibition team is assuming that the visitor will walk “left to right”. Hence, labeling the installation as such. But contrary to most, the majority of them, including myself, walked right to left. Leaving a lot of us confused as to which piece as what. Sometimes it is the details and simplest of gestures that can ruin an entire gallery experience.



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