In May 2010 Burtynsky travelled to the Gulf of Mexico to photograph the oil spill. We are pleased to premiere these photographs alongside Pentimento.
Burtynsky has explored the theme of oil for more than a decade, from the Alberta oil sands to Baku, Azerbaijan, one of the earliest sites of oil discovery. These images are gathered in Burtynsky: OIL, a touring museum exhibition organized by the Corcoran in Washington D.C. and coming to Toronto as the inaugural exhibition at the Ryerson Photography Gallery in May 2011. The show’s curator, Paul Roth writes in the accompanying book: “The subject is not oil. In these pictures, Edward Burtynsky shows the man-made world—the human ecosystem—that has risen up around the production, use, and dwindling availability of our paramount energy source.”
Pentimento is a series of ten black and white Type 55 Polaroid pictures made in the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh. These photographs contain evidence of the Polaroid process, such as blemishes in the emulsion and the jagged border of the negative, making them look raw and painterly. This series is an exciting new direction for Burtynsky, as it is the first time we have seen the process and also the first time he has worked in black and white. To him, black and white speaks to another era and as such is an elegy to the antiquated operation of dismantling ships by hand. Burtynsky was haunted by the image of ships on the beaches of Chittagong, and these pictures allow him to further express the otherworldly quality of this place.