Nick Hackworth

Edward Burtynsky, Flowers Central

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

For over two decades the absurdly underrated Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has recorded the impact of industry upon nature.

His quest has taken him from the shores of the Indian Ocean, in Chittagong, Bangladesh, where the rusting hulks of commercial ships are broken up, to the oil fields of California, where well-heads stretch into the distance, to the Yangtze River in China, where the Three Gorges Dam project has created the world’s largest construction and engineering site.

Always, as in the eight large photographs on show here, Burtynsky’s work induces a sense of the modern sublime, an amoral aesthetic wonder at the scale and nature of these industrial visions.

The myriad shining pipes and tubes of an oil refinery stand in bizarre, inhuman formation. A pile of hundreds of thousands of used tyres spill across an American dump like a bed of coral.

A perfectly composed black-and-white shot of one of the dams from the Three Gorges projects reveals, bathed in a soft light, a construction that dwarfs even the monuments built by Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.

In other arresting images not shown here, rivers, tinted by nickel mining, flow, bright orange, through brown and blasted landscapes.

So it is that the photographer intelligently captures the coexisting horror and wonder of global industrial production, which scars vast tracts of the world but feeds the extraordinary productivity and inventiveness of the consumer
society. By seducing us with the beauty of these processes and activities, he subtly reminds us of our complicity in their existence and continuation, damning with the lightest of touches.

He also shows that in these days of image saturation, when technical accomplishment is widely possible, it is only those with the insight and the tenacity to record all the sights that must be seen who deserve our attention.

Until 14 August. Information: 020 7439 7766.