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Inside the Edward Burtynsky Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery

The Canadian photographer’s powerful images shine a light on our plundered planet.

By Irenie Forshaw

At first glance, it’s hard to figure out exactly what you’re looking at when confronted with one of Edward Burtynsky’s works. The large-scale pieces appear almost like abstract paintings: strikingly beautiful canvases streaked with colorful paint splatters and geometric patterns. Look closer, though, and you’ll see they are, in fact, breathtakingly detailed photographs of plundered landscapes. From the diamond mines of Botswana to the salt pans of India, every image delves into the (often devastating) impact of human activity on the planet.

I’ve come to the Saatchi Gallery for the Canadian photographer’s largest-ever exhibitionBURTYNSKY: Extraction/ Abstraction. Running through May 6, 2024, the show is set across two floors of the gallery and features 94 of his photographs, alongside a collection of murals and an augmented reality experience.

Burtynsky grew up in St Catherine’s, an industrial town at the edge of Lake Ontario. After studying photography at Ryerson University, he dedicated his life to capturing the scars people have left on the planet. His poignant images span abandoned quarries, oil spills and ravaged forests. All are united by a clear message: something must change.  

[See also: UK’s Largest Yoko Ono Exhibition Opens at the Tate Modern]

Burtynsky photograph at saatchi gallery
94 of Burtynsky’s large-scale photographs are on display / ©Saatchi Gallery

Curated by Marc Mayer, former director of the National Gallery of Canada, the exhibition is a culmination of Burtynsky’s four-decade career. Organized into five main sections – Abstraction, Agriculture, Extraction, Manufacturing & Industry, and Waste – the show includes a never-before-seen ‘Process Archive’ charting Burtynsky’s navigation through several shifts in the photographic medium.

Guests will also have the chance to experience the photographer’s groundbreaking multimedia experience – In the Wake of Progress – which powerfully examines the sheer scale of the damage human industry has wreaked on Earth through a series of photographs and film footage with an original score by Bob Ezrin.

“While on the one hand, I’m deeply humbled that 40 years after I began this journey I’m here tonight opening this show, on the other I’m deeply concerned as our ecosystems worldwide are in danger,” Burtynsky told guests at the star-studded preview.

“Amidst the challenges that we face, I am reminded of the power of hope, not as a naïve, blind faith but as a belief that our individual actions can lead to the change that we seek. Each photograph in this exhibition is a testament to that hope – a hope that by coming together and engaging in meaningful action, we can chart a course to a more sustainable and harmonious future.”

Ed Burtynsky
Burtynsky has dedicated his life to capturing the scars people have left on the planet / ©Saatchi Gallery

Paul Foster, director of the Saatchi Gallery added: “This is an exhibition that reminds us how beautiful our planet is. Burtynsky has even captured how beauty remains evident in the way that humans have exploited its resources for our own ends. However, these images are also a wake-up call for humanity to change its ways or face a precarious and uncertain future. I cannot think of a more important exhibition that we could have presented.”

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As patron of the gallery, 11 Cadogan Gardens has launched an exclusive package to mark the exhibition. Guests will be treated to an overnight stay in one of the luxury hotel’s elegant rooms or suites, along with breakfast, tickets to the exhibition (which is a short stroll around the corner), a cocktail created specially for the occasion by the property’s in-house mixologist and a gift from the gallery to take home.

11 Cadogan Gardens
Guests will be treated to an overnight stay and tickets to the exhibition / ©11 Cadogan Gardens

The BURTYNSKY: Extraction/ Abstraction exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery is running through May 6, 2024. Tickets cost £18 (approx. $22). The 11 Cadogan Gardens x Saatchi Gallery stay starts at £349 (approx $441) per night.

saatchigallery.com, 11cadogangardens.com

[See also: What to Keep an Eye Out for at the 2024 Collect Art Fair]

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