'Reconnecting us to the wastelands': AGO's new photo exhibit shows what humanity's doing to the planet

A new exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, called Anthropocene, seeks to reveal the way human activity is transforming the planet.

Anthropocene features work of Toronto artists Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier

Edward Burtynsky's new photography exhibit Anthropocene opens this Friday at the AGO. (Paul Smith/CBC)

A new exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario seeks to reveal the way human activity is transforming the planet.

Just how the cumulative action of seven billion people is shaping the environment may be difficult, if not impossible, to grasp.

But the oversized photographs by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky have always sought to at least bring us a bit closer to that truth.

"These are human landscapes. We walk away and leave them as dead. But they are part of us and we need to understand them," Burtynsky said in an interview.

Anthropocene features the work of Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Anthropocene, opening this Friday at the AGO, is Burtynsky's collaboration with Toronto filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier.

It features wall-sized photographs and murals of rarely seen landscapes from around the world, including landfills, clear-cut forests, and industrial blight.

Burtynsky describes the work as "reconnecting us to the wastelands.

"We have this world that we're living in, but we don't necessarily understand what's happening out there that allows us to have the lives we live," Burtynsky said.

Anthropocene features more than 50 large-scale photographs and images. (Paul Smith/CBC)

"We can take our cameras and mediate those worlds back into our urban settings."

Born in St. Catharines, Ont., Burtynsky attended Ryerson University and first captured the attention of the photography world with his images of Ontario mines.

His photography is now featured in galleries and publications around the world.

The AGO's new exhibition Anthropocene looks at 'the many ways in which humans are transforming the planet,' according to an AGO media release. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Anthropocene features some of the largest photographs Burtynsky has ever produced, as well as films, a smartphone app and AR (augmented reality) components.

The scientific term anthropocene is used to refer to the current geological era, which began with the period of significant human impact on the environment.

Sparking climate change conversation

The AGO's curator of photography, Sophie Hackett, hopes the show will spark a conversation about climate change.

"I think it's one thing to read a story, to hear an expert, it's another thing to come face to face with what that looks like," Hackett told CBC Toronto.

Anthropocene has been years in the making. Burtynsky, Baichwal and de Pencier travelled to every continent except Antarctica to gather images.

'What are we doing today, a geologist could find a million years from now and say, 'Aha, this was the human period,'" Edward Burtynsky said of his new exhibit at the AGO. (Paul Smith/CBC)

"The artists really sought out those sites that showed a particularly intense version of that activity. Whether it was the biggest coal mine in Germany, or the fastest growing city in the world," Hackett said.

The exhibits runs through Jan. 6.


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