Since the early 1980s, Edward Burtynsky has traveled the world in search of a wider perspective. At first armed with a large-format field camera (and years later, finally, a digital substitute), Burtynsky has produced awe-inspiring landscapes of his native Canada, sweeping views of south and east Asia as well as locations around the world, and lately, more topical projects with titles like “Water,” “China,” and “Oil.”
His newest series is titled “Salt Pans.” To produce it, Burtynsky traveled to Gujarat, India to photograph the Little Rann of Kutch, a seasonal salt marsh that is home to the Agariya people. The Agariya have been making their livelihood in the same way for generations—by producing salt from the region’s massive salt pans. For several months out of the year, this area is submerged in salt water. When the water retreats in the fall, the Agriya create rectangular pastures where the salt forms as a result of a natural evaporation process.
Speaking about this process, Burtynsky says, “Like so much in the world today, the future of the Agariya people hangs in the balance. The water table that provides salinated water for the process has dropped, and their yield is dropping along with it. The middlemen who buy the salt pay less than what it takes to produce, so they are perpetually in debt. Most families are trying to find a way to get their children out of the business so they can have a better future.”
Here, we’ve published a selection from these “Salt Pans” as well as three images from his forthcoming project, Anthropocene, a multidisciplinary project that will eventually include a feature documentary film, a fine art book, and a museum exhibition.
The trio of images that Burtynsky has released from “Anthropocene” were shot in Nigeria. The titles (Oil Bunkering #1 and #2) refer to an illegal process where people hack into oil pipelines, steal the crude oil, and refine it to sell on the black market. The rusted structures visible in Burtynsky’s shots are from the illegal “refining” process, while the boats that are visible in “Oil Bunkering #1” [above] are used by the oil thieves to transport stolen oil to refining locations hidden deep in the Niger Delta.
“This area once was covered with pristine mangroves but has now been destroyed by the process,” Burtynsky’s studio said in a comment. “The damage is especially bad at the ‘refining’ site—but oil sheen can be seen on the surface of waterways all over the area.”
Editors’ note: The projected release date for “Anthropocene” is fall 2018. You can learn more about the project on its dedicated website.