As a Gulf Coast resident, it’s not easy to look at “Oil Spill #10,” (above). The photograph’s deceptive beauty comes from its vibrant, emerald water streaked with jagged rivulets of black oil. Taken out of context, it could be a close up of of raw gemstone, yet the horizon gives it away, pushes you back and you see the quiet horror of our collective actions–or inactions–in those dark rivers. Personally, living in Louisiana, on the Gulf Coast, it’s hard not to go into Edward Burtynsky’s new exhibition of photography, Water, without preconceived notions about oil and water, the result of being surrounded by each one, both threatened and sustained by each. It’s hard not to view such industry with a critical eye when you live so close to the largest man-made environmental disaster the United States has ever seen. Yet, most of the world lives near water, it’s human nature, it’s survival, it’s necessary, it’s primal. And unlike oil, we need it to live. That’s the uneasy part of the work, of nearly all of Edward Burtynsky’s catalog, his “inverted sublime” worlds, the upside down-ness of resource mining on a grand scale. Water simply brings us to the new frontier, the new commodity and future industrialization and scarcity of the very resource that covers 70% of our planet. There are companies at this very moment looking into the logistics of shipping pure Icelandic water–from melting glaciers, no less–to areas that have tainted their own supply. According to UNESCO, “By 2025, an estimated 60 percent of the world’s population will live in water-stressed conditions, and a similar proportion will be without adequate sanitation.” This is the next big business.
Can’t make it to see the exhibit in person? There’s an app for that.”