Thursday, 4 September 2014

Interview with Edward Burtynsky


Interview with Edward Burtynsky

Edward Burtynsky: Watermark

Edward Burtynsky (b.1955) is a Canadian photographer and filmmaker, known for his large-format photography of natural and industrial landscapes and the crossover points between humankind and nature. His latest project, focusing on water in all its aspects, has led to an exhibition, a book, and a feature documentary film.

Anna McNay: How was it for you, as a photographer, working in collaboration with two other people – co-director Jennifer Baichwal and producer Nicholas de Pencier – to make the film? Clearly you’re behind the still photography, but were you responsible for the moving imagery as well?

Edward Burtynsky: When I started the Water project, for the first two years, it was very much just me and one other assistant, because I was trying to block out the central ideas and figure them out visually. I worked through the stills, and once I had maybe 60-70% of the themes confirmed, with visuals to support them, we came in with the film crews and started to expand on that. I was only directly responsible for maybe 5-10 minutes of the film footage with my own camerawork. Largely, it was Nick [de Pencier], who is a cameraman as well as a producer. I would show him an image that I’d picked and ask him to work with the technologies to bring that image into film. I wasn’t behind the actual camera, but I was choosing the subject matter and the frames and then having the camera take them.

AMc: Jennifer [Baichwal] has spoken about the need to be in a place in an authentic way and to convey that authenticity. How do you go about ensuring this when you’re carrying a large amount of equipment and presumably don’t always speak the language?

EB: We ran into some real obstacles in India, trying to get some high vantage points for the Kumbh Mela festival. There were 30 million people there on one day and we wanted to really try and get that sense of what 30 million people trying to bathe in one spot looked like. We wanted to get up high but they were afraid of all our technology. We had remote helicopters and a 50 foot pole. They wouldn’t let us use the tools that we wanted or put them in the places that we wanted, so it was a real struggle. Generally, however, we tend to be there long enough so that those who we’re engaging with almost forget that we’re there. You’re just there, rolling. Eventually they forget you’re there and they say something or do something. You wouldn’t get that with traditional film. The new medium of digital video has opened up the potential to really be there with the subject until the camera disappears.

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