When you look at a photograph by Edward Burtynsky, it’s customary to be overcome by the sheer scale of his work. He deals with big subjects – industrialisation, economic growth, the prevalence of oil and the mechanised mining of our earth – and his trademark panoramic shots add a breathtaking sense of perspective to them. Who else would you get to shoot vast mining craters in Australia, the ship-breaking graveyards of Bangladesh and the rapidly-expanding industrial districts of China?
What’s less apparent (but equally breathtaking) is just how long he’s been producing work of this magnitude and calibre. Snap back to 1983 and a 30-year-old Burtynsky has just started producing large-format images of railway cuts in his native Canada. They’re the very first of multiple landscape series’ that went on to define his career. For early work, Burtynsky’s accomplishment is extraordinary, and his technique is groundbreaking in its approach. To look back on these images now with an understanding of the illustrious career that’s filled the intervening years offers a remarkable insight into a truly incredible photographer. So have a look, and then think about just how great this man really is.