A Terrible Beauty

“Edward Burtynsky in Dialogue with Emily Carr” at the Kamloops Art Gallery

“There is a sense of being beyond that wonderment period in your life, where everything is new and fabulous, into the point were everything is a bit frightening when you see the scope and danger [of the world],” said Bruce Grenville, senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery and curator of the Edward Burtynsky and Emily Carr exhibit currently shown at the Kamloops Art Gallery (KAG).

The Vancouver Art Gallery has collected and organized works by world-renowned Canadian artists, photographer Edward Burtynsky and painter Emily Carr. The exhibit, entitled “A Terrible Beauty,” examines the perspective of two different artists that, speaking broadly, dealt with similar subjects of environment and mankind’s influence on it.

The gallery begins with Burtynsky’s early works, including shots from around the Thompson-Nicola area, one entitled “Homesteads #40,” shot on Highway 5 between Merritt and Princeton, followed by Carr’s paintings of the natural environment being altered by logging and colonialism, then finally bookended with Burtynsky’s most recent works.

A viewer gets lost in Burtynsky's "Markafljot River #1." (Kim Anderson/The Omega)

A viewer gets lost in Burtynsky’s “Markafljot River #1.” (Kim Anderson/The Omega)

Carr’s piece “Loggers’ Culls” from 1935 presents a view of the impact logging had taken on the environment. It is an almost surreal view of what was once a vast forest, now with only a few sparse, skinny trees where the logging occurred. The work is undeniably beautiful, but it raises the question of, how much of that beauty was created by Carr? And how beautiful was the site before industry altered it?

“She [Carr] pointed to what seemed like a loss or potential disaster. He [Burtynsky] is pointing to a world that is extraordinary,” Grenville said.

When standing and examining Burtynsky’s “Oil Fields #18,” it becomes impossible to separate the man-made machinery from the natural environment. He takes two subjects that are normally separate (in art), and melds them together. The vast oilrigs have taken over and have covered, even become the landscape. The only whisper of the natural environment left in the shot, is the faded, distant mountains.

“Burning Tire Pile #1,” is literally a pit of smoldering tires. At first glance, it looks like wispy fog resting on a hill or mountain. However, with closer examination, it is exactly what the title describes: a pile of burning tires. But somehow Burtynsky has taken an ugly idea, a usually hidden result of our commercial need for transportation, and captured it in a stunningly beautiful image.

The viewer is forced to consider the cost of progress and change. Yet, the work isn’t activism or a strong critique. It’s a question and examination of what makes a landscape beautiful.

“Thematically, his subject isn’t judgmental and he’s stayed consistent. It’s the technology that has changed. It’s fascinating to see Carr doing a similar environmental theme,” gallery attendee Diana Pratt-Johnson said.

Collecting and organizing the works of one of Canada’s most respected and important currently working photographers for the exhibit was remarkably easy, according to Grenville.

“We were talking to Ed about where to get the works and how to think about it,” Grenville said. “And he says, ‘why don’t I just donate everything you need?’ Which is what he did! [He donated] 35 photographs. That, in my world is a great gift. They’re worth almost three-quarters of a million dollars. Ed is one of the rare artists that would do that.”

Burtynsky’s recent works are massive in size. He captures images from the sky, from an airplane, in order to get an incredible bird’s-eye view. He shoots with a high-end Hasselblad camera that boasts 64 megapixels. He is giving the viewer an unconventional perspective that they otherwise never would have seen

The works have the ability to shock and fascinate, while simultaneously making the viewer seem unimaginably small.

Three community members examine Ed Burtynsky's "Mount Edziza Provincial Park #4." (Kim Anderson/ The Omega)

Three community members examine Ed Burtynsky’s “Mount Edziza Provincial Park #4.” (Kim Anderson/ The Omega)

“It’s so strong, very strong, to see a Burtynsky in real life versus in a book or a website,” said fourth-year TRU student Heather Pratt-Johnson. “My mom and I will be discussing this show the entire drive home.”

The KAG has brought an incredible gift to Kamloops, celebrating the work of world-renowned Canadian artists Burtynsky and Carr in “A Terrible Beauty,” running from Oct. 18 to Dec. 31.

Take a break from the daily monotony, stop into the KAG and challenge yourself to examine the “terrible beauty” that is mankind’s legacy on the environment.

“[The challenge is] trying to come to terms with the content that Ed deals with. The most challenging thing is, the works are beautiful, and seductive and wonderful to think about, and really interesting,” Grenville said.