In ‘African Studies,’ Edward Burtynsky Photographs the Human Imprint on Sub-Saharan Landscapes
Renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky approaches his latest project with curiosity about the future of human impact and globalization. From the diamond mines of South Africa to the richly textured landscape of Namibia’s Tsaus Mountains, African Studies spotlights the sub-Saharan region and its reserves of metals, salt, precious gemstones, and other ores. “I am surveying two very distinct aspects of the landscape,” he says in a statement, “that of the earth as something intact, undisturbed yet implicitly vulnerable… and that of the earth as opened up by the systematic extraction of resources.”
Taken over seven years in ten nations—these include Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Madagascar, and Tanzania—the aerial photos, which are compiled in a forthcoming book published by Steidl, present a dichotomy between a region irrevocably altered by humanity and one of immense possibility. Burtynsky’s interest in the continent began in the early Aughts when working on a series about China, which he explains:
For that project, and while researching several topics including the Three Gorges Dam, urban renewal, and recycling, I learned how the new Chinese factories were being created. At the time, heavy machinery was literally being unbolted from concrete floors in Europe and North America, then shipped and refastened to the floors of gigantic facilities in China. This represented a paradigm shift of industry, and it seemed obvious that China was rapidly becoming a leading manufacturer for the world. I realized even then that the African continent was poised to become the next, perhaps even the last, territory for major industrial expansion.
Particularly since 2013 when it launched its Belt and Road Initiative, China has invested billions of dollars in expanding its global presence, with many African nations as targets. This growth, along with international competition for access and power on the continent, has widespread economic, environmental, and governmental impacts, which Burtynsky explores through the series.
Photographed via helicopter, plane, or drone, his images juxtapose the natural beauty of the landscape with the unnerving scars of human impact. Long tailing ponds, or waste sites from mining with the potential to contaminate the area with toxic chemicals, appear frequently in the project, while photos like that of the Dandora Landfill center on the direct effects of consumerism on local people. The largest waste repository in Kenya, the dump site attracts locals who scavenge recyclable plastic to sell, despite the rampant threat of cancer and infertility.
While much of African Studies is shot outdoors, Burtynsky heads inside for part of the project, documenting the interiors of manufacturing plants. “I hope to continue raising awareness about the cost of growing our civilization without the necessary consideration for sustainable industrial practices and the dire need for implementing globally organized governmental initiatives and binding international legislations in order to protect present and future generations from what stands to be forever lost,” he says.
African Studies is currently available for pre-order on Bookshop. Photos from the series are also on view at two New York spaces: Sundaram Tagore through April 1 and Howard Greenberg Gallery through April 22.
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Bewildering Reflections and Perspectives Shift in the Hyperrealistic Oil Paintings of Nathan Walsh
In his intricate oil paintings, Nathan Walsh captures the textural sheen of rain on city streets and luminescent reflections in cafe windows. The artist has previously explored different vantage points in elaborate cityscapes, rendering the corners of buildings, corridors of skyscrapers, and expansive bridges in detailed, two-point perspective. Recently, he has further honed ideas around perception and the way the built environment presents uncanny optical illusions in the interplay of people and objects, light, and reflections.
The ideas for Walsh’s compositions often form as he wanders the streets of cities like New York and Paris, making sketches and taking photographs that he brings back to his studio, a converted Welsh Methodist chapel. “Up until last year, my work had been exclusively devoted to the urban landscape,” he tells Colossal, sharing that various objects like those spotted in an antique shop window in Paris’s 7th arrondissement signaled new references to his ideas around place and familiarity. He says:
I would travel, collect information, then return to my studio to respond to that material. “Metaphores” started in the same way: a trip to Paris, wandering aimlessly around the streets looking for ideas. On my return to the U.K., I realised a lot of the photographs and drawings I’d made were touching on similar subject matter to [my] home environment.
Pieces like “Metaphores” or “Rue de Saints” represent a shift in Walsh’s understanding of the urban landscape or more concisely, of how it is experienced. Elaborate window reflections warp our sense of space and fuse realism with imagination, such as in “Monarchs Drift,” in which the artist has spliced together scenes of Chicago and San Francisco. Walsh imbues the works with what he describes as a “hallucinatory quality which is ‘neither here nor there,'” embracing notions of transition, global connections, and his own memories of trips he has taken.
Walsh’s paintings will be featured in a forthcoming book published by Thames & Hudson dedicated to urban landscapes, and you can find more of his work on his website and Instagram.
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Shrouded in Mist, Spectral Icebergs Float Around the Antarctic Peninsula in Photos by Jan Erik Waider
In late 2019, Jan Erik Waider boarded the Bark Europa, a 56-meter-long wooden sailing ship constructed in 1911, bound for the Antarctic Peninsula. The Hamburg-based photographer, whose work centers on polar landscapes (previously), captured the multifaceted forms of glaciers and icebergs, steely grays of storms, and shrouds of mist during the 24-day voyage. Waider is known for his documentation of dramatic northern destinations like Iceland, Norway, and Greenland, and a trip to the southern extreme proffered an opportunity to expand on his series of atmospheric vistas with the project A Faint Resemblance.
Antarctica is approximately 98% covered in ice and nearly doubles in size in the winter when the sea freezes around its periphery. In summer, the sheets break up and calve thousands of icebergs, many of which are so vast that they can be measured in square miles. Waider captured the spectral forms of these floating, icy islands as the ship rounded the coastline, drifting through patches of fog that added an extra element of surprise when it cleared to reveal a new scene. “The infinite shapes and textures of icebergs in the polar regions fascinate me again and again,” he says, adding that “the proportions are unimaginable, considering that the largest part is still under water.” Waider is always astonished by the spectrum of the color blue, which on cloudy days can appear even more vibrant, as if glowing from within.
The poles have seen record warmth and ice melt in the past few years, which contributes to rising sea levels and alters the region’s ecosystems. Waider says, “I’m really drawn to landscapes that are transforming or vanishing like icebergs and glaciers. It has a fascinating and also a sad element, and every photo is a snapshot of a moment which is long gone by now.”
Waider is preparing to publish a photo book of more images from his Antarctica trip, emphasizing a holistic interpretation of the continent’s landscape, nature, wildlife, historic sites and the Bark Europa. Find more of his work on his website and Behance.
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Sho Shibata Captures the Beastly Snow-Covered Trees of Japan’s Hakkōda Mountains
A few years back, photographer Sho Shibata traversed the frozen landscapes of Aomori’s Hakkōda Mountains documenting the otherworldly formations that cover the slopes. Heavy, icy snow cloaks the countless trees that populate the region, morphing the arboreal vistas into frigid hoodoo-like characters. “This is my favourite place to visit when it is cold like this because it transforms into a wonderland,” Shibata says. “When I first saw them, I actually thought there were lots of snowmen. What’s incredible is how they all look so similar. They look like snow monsters, like they are ghosts.”
Rising to 5,200 feet, Hakkōda is a popular ski destination in the winter, when temperatures plunge and dry, powdery snow blankets the volcanic peaks. “I moved from mountain to mountain. Temperatures got as low as -8 degrees Celsius while I was up there,” he said. “This meant I was able to capture walkers on their journey.”
In addition to the frosty specters shown here, Shibata published a book of black-and-white photos showcasing the area near his home in the Tsugaru region. You can find more of his work on Instagram. (via Spoon & Tamago)
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Dramatic Landscapes and Dazzling Portraits Highlight Global Perspectives in the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards
From the sinuous lines of a leaping cat, to a giant tortoise gliding alongside a snorkeler, to a lone cyclist illuminated on a road juxtaposed against a looming city, the winning images from this year’s Sony World Photography Awards (previously) showcase remarkable slices of life captured by photographers hailing from 55 countries around the globe. Now in its 16th year, the competition garnered more than 415,000 entries from more than 200 nations and territories, about half of which were entered into the running for the National Awards, an initiative set up by the World Photography Organization and Sony to support local photographic communities around the world.
Check out some of our favorite images below, and if you’re in London, stop by Somerset House between April 14 and May 1 to see all of the winning images on display, including top picks from the student, youth, open, and professional categories.
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Ethereal Light Suffuses Domestic Interiors with Surreal Hues in Alfie Caine’s Paintings
Imbued with otherworldly light and a jewel-toned palette, Alfie Caine’s dreamscapes tuck domestic architecture into the idealized surroundings of manicured neighborhoods, country gardens, and lush woodland. The East Sussex-based artist draws on his formal training in architecture to render homes and their environs in vivid hues, playing with perspective and the relationship between light and shadow in an interplay of interior and exterior.
In Caine’s vignettes of domestic life, clues to the inhabitants are found in details like a potted plant propping a door open, a pet awaiting attention, or a glimpse of a figure in the corner, nearly out of view. The precision of linear perspective and bold contrasts meet the surreal, organic forms of wispy flora and streams of chimney smoke in scenes that emphasize small moments of pleasure in everyday life, such as taking a hot bath, strumming a guitar, or lighting a candle. These instances of familiarity are often countered by uncanny light sources, which illuminate bouquets of flowers, cast long shadows, and portend an incoming storm or some mysterious, unknown event.
Caine’s solo show titled Moments of Calm is on view through February 23 at JARILAGER Gallery. Find more of the artist’s work on his website and Instagram.
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