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A Photographer Who Has Always Worked on a Large Scale Goes Even Bigger

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Long before the climate crisis was the focus of global concern Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky was traveling the world documenting what people have inflicted on the environment and, by extension themselves.

His work has always been monumental both in its subjects and approach. For most of his four-decade-long-career Mr. Burtynsky sought out the largest examples of what he wanted to document, like open pit mines and photographed them using cameras that made 4-by-5 or 8-by-10-inch negatives, which he printed at an oversized scale.

He’s long since moved on to working in digital photography, and he’s also exploring new ways of presenting his work other than just in books and as prints. His most recent project has gone from oversized to gigantic in scale.

“In The Wake of Progress” takes 40 years of Mr. Burtynsky’s works, including some video projects, and combines them with a powerful, emotional soundtrack composed by Phil Strong to create a multimedia experience. Anyone who visited Expo 67 will likely be reminded of The National Film Board of Canada’s “Labyrinth.”

It debuted on an extreme scale. For Toronto’s Luminato Festival, Mr. Burtynsky was allowed to take over the 22 screens that normally light up Toronto’s Dundas Square with advertising several stories tall. He’s followed that with a three-screen version, with each screen standing about 10 meters high. “In The Wake of Progress” recently closed in Toronto and is coming to Montreal this fall.

The sheer size of the projections brings dramatic changes to even Mr. Burtynsky’s most familiar works. The factory workers who appear as just rows of people in prints or books become individuals, and details emerge to the foreground.

I spoke with Mr. Burtynsky shortly before the smaller scale, yet still very large, Toronto show closed. The highlights of our conversation have been edited for clarity and length:

When you were offered the Dundas Square screens, was the idea immediately appealing?

I thought: Wouldn’t it be interesting to kind of have an arc of my complete career and to start and kind of buttress it with nature, to say we come from nature? And so it starts with an old growth, ancient forest and ends at that same forest.

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It was also way to reference that the square was a grove of trees in the not-that-distant past.

A lot of public art, I feel, doesn’t directly connect. So I wanted to have the idea of somebody leaving Nordstrom’s with their shopping bag and then, all of a sudden, being swept up into a roller-coaster ride experience.

Why did you start photographing the effect of people on the planet?

I started in photography at Ryerson and my first-year assignment was: Go out and find evidence of man. Then I started thinking about how ruins are this evidence of the lives of humans passing.

I grew up in St. Catharines, where there are all these leftover bits of the Welland Canal — the canal went through four different routes through time. I mapped all the different routes, I biked them all and then I started photographing these remnants.

It suited the way I like to think. It was kind of like they gave me like a hall pass to like be an alien. It was as if I had to come to this planet to report back to another intelligence about what we’re doing to the planet. I would show this other how we’re changing the planet, how we’re deforesting and how we’re turning it into farmland, how we’re extracting metals from the earth, how we’re using its water, how we’re using technology.

Our land of plenty will eventually become a land of scarcity because all the easy stuff will get picked over and the land will be depleted.

One striking thing about your work is how it reveals the skill people have at building things on an inhuman scale.

I always refer to that as the contemporary sublime. In the past the sublime was, if you look at the Romantics, nature. It was the gale force winds, the storm at sea. And we’re dwarfed in its presence and we’re overwhelmed and in awe of it.

The contemporary sublime is our technological revolution where we have dwarfed ourselves with our own creations. We are little trucks in this big open pit mine. We’re creating these 400- ton machines that can move tons of material in one bucket.

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I look for landscapes that feel like they come from alien worlds, yet they are the world that we created. These things have this surreal quality to them and scale to them. There’s no reason for us who live in cities to go see these places. So I’m in a way bearing witness and bringing these things back to consider.



A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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Ten Pieces of Advice that Mr. Barack Obama Would Give to Teenage Black Males Regarding Future Careers

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(WASHINGTON, D.C. – November 6, 2022) – If Barack Obama could go back in time and talk to inner-city black males as teenagers, what would he say? That’s a question many people have been asking since his farewell address. In my opinion, Obama would share advice regarding young black men and their future careers. Here are 10 pieces of advice that Barack Obama would give to young black males:

1. Barack Obama would tell young black males that it’s never too early to start thinking about their careers. He would encourage them to start planning for their futures at a young age.

2. Barack Obama would tell young black males to find a qualified mentor who can help them navigate into those careers. He would advise them to seek out someone who has walked in their shoes and understands their challenges.

3. Barack Obama would tell young black males to wear clothes that make them feel confident and professional. He would remind them that they are representing their families and communities when they go out into the workforce.

4. Barack Obama would tell young black males to read books that will help them develop their careers. He would suggest biographies of successful people, self-help books, and books about business and entrepreneurship.

5. Barack Obama would tell young black males to be persistent and diligent in their career pursuits. He would remind them that success doesn’t come easy and that they need to work hard for what they want.

6. Barack Obama would tell young black males to stay focused on their goals and dreams. He would remind them that anything is possible if they put their minds to it.

7. Barack Obama would tell young black males to be confident in themselves and their abilities. He would encourage them to stand up for what they believe in, even when others try to bring them down.

8. Barack Obama would tell young black males to be grateful for the opportunities they have been afforded, no matter how small the opportunities may seem. He would advise them to use these opportunities as stepping stones towards bigger and better opportunities.

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9. Barack Obama would tell young black males that it’s ok to make mistakes along the way – everyone does! He would encourage them to learn from these mistakes and move on stronger than before.

10. Barack Obama would encourage these young black males to read his books, read his speeches and read about decisions that he made as President of the United States.

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BlackUSA.News’ 4 O’Clock News … Streaming LIVE from EMAGE Center, Monday 4 pm

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(NEW YORK – November 5, 2022) – Founded by BMORENews.com in the middle of the pandemic out of necessity, BlackUSA.News has evolved into a national brand. The news team will stream the 4 O’Clock News LIVE from the EMAGE Center for the first time on Monday at 4 pm.

BlackUSA.News hosts hail from New York, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Oakland. And, the network is always open to more hosts from more cities.

“We have been waiting for this opportunity for nearly two years,” said publisher Doni Glover. He added, “We are grateful for the opportunity provided by Mr. Aziz and the EMAGE Center. There isn’t a better place for both BMORENews and BlackUSA.News to call home. Further, we want the world to know about Mr. Aziz, his team, and the two great businesses they own and operate: Made In Bmore Clothing and Frozen Desert Sorbet!”

BlackUSA.News streams to FacebookLinkedInYouTube, and Twitter daily.

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Sixty Minutes in Black America with Michael Haynie: Doni Glover Interview, Oct. 30

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Tune in to BlackUSA.News on YouTube.

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