New Brunswick

Photographer Edward Burtynsky's gift to UNB reveals a bigger picture

Standing next to an Edward Burtynsky, the viewer may feel small compared to the immensity of the depicted oil fields, mines and piles of discarded tires.

25 large photographs document humanity's impact on Earth

University of New Brunswick Art Centre director Marie Maltais said she hopes people viewing the Edward Burtynsky images can see the 'terrible beauty' of humanity’s impact on the Earth. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Standing next to an Edward Burtynsky, the viewer may feel small compared to the immensity of the depicted oil fields, mines and piles of discarded tires.

The renowned Canadian artist gave 25 of his large-scale photographs — the largest measuring 48 by 64 inches — to the University of New Brunswick Art Centre. They will be on display until April 6.

Centre director Marie Maltais said she hopes people viewing the images at the exhibit titled "A Terrible Beauty: The Seductive Lens of Edward Burtynsky" can see the titular "terrible beauty" of humanity's impact on Earth.

The collection includes a photograph of the Saint John oil refinery. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Standing in front of her favourite photograph, of the oil fields of Azerbaijan, a small country by the Caspian Sea, Maltais said the images were mostly taken from a helicopter, at least 800 feet above ground.

"A lot of times when we see photographs, they're very small. We're used to seeing them on our cellphones now, but these are very large. They have a presence. That size almost stands in on the size and immensity of some earth incursion."

'You get sucked into these pictures, they engulf you'

5 years ago
Duration 1:41
The renowned Canadian artist, Edward Burtynksy, gifted 25 of his large-scale photographs - the largest measuring 48 by 64 inches - to the University of New Brunswick Art Centre.

The Toronto-based Burtynsky, whose work is in the National Gallery of Canada and the Guggenheim Museum, among other institutions, gave UNB one piece from each of his collections after Maltais expressed a strong interest in his work.

The creation dates span from 1985 to 2016. Maltais said each piece is worth about $80,000, so she's thankful they were donated.

Maltais chose to display the photographs in two different rooms in UNB's Memorial Hall. One has white walls and includes photographs of man-made objects: tires, cans and one photograph of the Saint John Irving Oil Refinery.

The second room has grey walls and includes photographs of the human impact on the earth, such as dams, farms and geothermal heating plants.

"You get sucked into these pictures, they engulf you, they make you feel small in their immensity," she said.

Installing one of the 25 large photographs donated by Burtynsky. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

The first day of the exhibit, Friday, also marked the centre's new effort to invite musicians to play during an opening. For this exhibit, the centre invited local cellist and music instructor Danielle Bojczuk.

To complement and respond to the photographs, Bojczuk chose two pieces of music: Bach Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor and the Songs and Poems by Philip Glass.

"Some people say D minor is the saddest key," she said. "When I saw a few examples of the work … I was hit very profoundly by them. They're very thought-provoking, not necessarily feel-good photos, so I knew I had to pick something really with a lot of depth, maybe a touch of sadness."

Maltais said she's been a fan of the renowned photographer for a long time and is glad to finally have some of his work at the university. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

She said the Bach piece has a wide range of emotion, from slow and contemplative to fast and furious. She hopes the music will enhance the viewing of the photographs on "a more emotional level."

Bojczuk has done one other gallery performance and she said she likes the setting.

"Music can bring out more responses, more activity on the brain," she said. "I like the combination of music with the visuals."

After April 6, UNB will archive some of the photographs and frame others to be displayed around campus. As a fan of Burtynsky, Maltais said, she's excited the photographs can elicit conversations about social justice, global conflict, sustainability and environmental issues.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hadeel Ibrahim is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Saint John. She reports in English and Arabic. Email: hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca.

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