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Edward Burtynsky

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OIL FIELDS #27

Bakersfield, California, USA, 2004

Photo: Edward Burtynsky

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There’s no doubt that Edward Burtynsky’s photos from his Oil series are best viewed as enormous prints on a gallery wall. Known as one of the preeminent projects about the industrial age, the photos rely on scale to deliver their message about how oil has changed both the earth and human kind in profound and lasting ways.

That’s why we were skeptical when we heard he was releasing a new iPad version of the project’s book, which was originally published in 2009. How would these prints translate to a backlit viewing platform smaller than a sheet of office paper?

With app in hand, we were able to confirm the obvious — the iPad will never replace a print on the wall or a well-designed photo book. But that said, what we lost in scale and tactility was made up at least in part by the other features we’ve all come to love about the iPad.

Case-in-point are the short interviews with Burtynsky that accompany 24 of the photos. I enjoy a piece of art more when I know something about it and hearing Burtynsky explain things that you wouldn’t find in a normal caption — like why he composed certain photos in very particular ways — enriched the experience.

Other features on the app include three videos of Burtynsky speaking about his work and maps that show the location of the photos. There are also nine new images from the Gulf oil spill.

What tips the scales in favor of the app is the price. The Oil book sells for $128 on the publisher’s website. We can just imagine how much a Burtynsky print sells for. So at $9.99 there’s not much room to complain. If you enjoy Burtynsky’s work, it’s a drop in the bucket to experience a project that will only get more important as time goes on.

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Edward Burtynsky while on location in Spain, 2010.

“I’m always interested in how humans shape the landscape,” says photographer Edward Burtynsky, a master at documenting the effects of industry on the nature for more than 20 years. “All my work is really about the pristine landscape being pushed back as a result of the expanding human footprint. And I kept thinking of farming as one of the largest terraforming events that humans have exercised on the planet.”

That interest is the inspiration behind Dryland Farming—on view at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery—one of two exhibitions paying tribute to Burtynsky’s career in New York City this fall. The other, on display at Howard Greenberg Gallery, takes a broader, retrospective look at the photographer’s 25-year career.

Dryland Farming features topographic landscape images from the Monegros region in northeastern Spain that the photographer shot from a helicopter about 2,000 feet above. “The colors and the shapes were like nothing I’d ever seen before,” Burtynsky says. “It reminded me of the abstract paintings of the 20th century, like [Pablo] Picasso’s Guernica.”

Burtynsky photographed the series in 2010, and the work is part of a larger project called Water, which the lensman began in 2008 and expects to complete in 2013. “I like to take a theme and start building ideas around it and trying to find the visual correlations to those ideas,” Burtynsky says. “Water was an interesting one to try to capture visually, especially if you look at agriculture in all its different forms as a subject that relates to water. The incredible farms and farming methodology in the Monegros region in Spain were certainly a huge part of that.”

Dryland Farming will be on view at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York from Oct. 26-Dec. 10. The Howard Greenberg Gallery exhibition in New York is on view from Oct. 27-Dec.10.

Feifei Sun is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @Feifei_Sun or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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Articles - LA Times : When it paid to photograph hard truth (LA Times: June 2010) The 10 photographers in ‘Engaged Observers,’ opening June 29 at the Getty Museum, are bound by a personal perspective and an endangered profession. | Another Engaged Observers exhibition article on LA Times

Articles - burn: Carl De Keyzer profile (burn: June 2010)

More of these great NGM features from the past year, that I’ve never linked to…

Features and Essays – Edward Burtynsky: California’s Pipe Dream (NGM: 2010) A heroic system of dams, pumps, and canals can’t stave off a water crisis.

Features and Essays - Carolyn Drake: The Other Tibet (NGM: 2009) The Uygurs, Muslim people of China’s resource-rich far west, are becoming strangers in their own land as Han Chinese pour in. Like the Tibetans, who face similar pressures, some Uygurs see a chance for a better life, but others protest the disintegration of their culture, even at the risk of death.

Features and Essays – Ed Kashi: Syria (NGM: 2009)

Features and Essays – Pascal Maitre: Shattered Somalia (NGM: 2009)

Features and Essays – Travis Dove: Called to the Holy Mountain (NGM: 2009) High on their holy cliffs, monks are defiant, zealous, prayerful. Meanwhile, the outside world creeps closer.

Features and Essays – Jehad Nga: A Blooming Democracy in the Desert (NYT: June 2010)

Features and Essays – Matteo Bastianelli: Scarred Recollection (Foto8: June 2010) Bosnia

Photographers – Matteo Bastianelli : website

Blogs - Kosuke Okahara : blog now in English

Books / Articles – Foto8: Toppled by Florian Gottke (Foto8: June 2010)

Photographers – Tony Fouhse : website

Features and Essays – Tammy David: Crown and Country (Bite Magazine: June 2010)

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