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Edward Burtynsky on his ravaged Earth shots: ‘We’ve reached heyday everything’

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The enormous photographers awesome personas taken from drones, propellor airplanes and a 50 ft selfie stick show how manufacture has drilled and drained our planet

Rectangles of pale blues and commons lie scattered across a sea of grey sand, looking a little bit like someone dropped their Farrow& Ball emblazon swatches in a feline litter tray. The mottled gray-haired background is tagged with faded layers of scrapings and doodles, like an endlessly reworked charcoal-grey attract, from which the little blockings of colour reflect out as shining jewels in the dust.

This is what the salt pans of Gujarat in north India look like, when verified through the painterly birds-eye lens of Edward Burtynsky. The 61 -year-old Canadian photographer has devoted his profession to capturing people impact on the landscape from above, heightening the uncouth debris of slag stockpiles and open-cast mines into exalted wall-sized chant to how weve established our observe on the surface area of the Earth. And hes on a mission to document it all before its too late.

I happened upon the salt pans on Google Earth one day, he says, sitting in east Londons Flowers Gallery, where an exhibit of his run opens on 16 September. A few months later I was in a Cessna hovering over them, are seeking to captivate this incredible terrain before it disappears.

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Like person dropped their Farrow& Ball colour swatches Salt pans in Gujarat, India Photograph: Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London/ Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Home to more than 100,000 salt proletarians, who remove around a million tonnes of salt a year from the floodwaters of the Arabian Sea, the striking lunar scenery of the Little Rann of Kutch might not exist for much longer. The industry being threatened from receding groundwater levels and declining market values, potentially putting paid to a way of life and land-forming that has existed here for over 400 years.

Like most of Burtynskys work which mercy collectings from Tate to MoMA and the Guggenheim when you two are investigate these pastel-hued airliners of wrinkles, squares and scrawls, its not quite clear what youre looking at until you peer a little bit closer. The furrows in the dappled gray backgrounds, which have the ghostly patina of an etching, turn out to be the ways of trucks and the grooves of dikes and berms, mined out to stop the desert sand from blowing into the salt pans.

I like it when the witnes cant get wise instantaneously, says Burtynsky, poring over one of his two-metre wide-ranging photographs to find a evidence that proves we are looking at a flow delta , not just an abstract whirl of reds and browns. Like recognizing the striped red-faced jersey in a Wheres Wally sketch, there is a satisfaction that comes from decoding the signs of life and manufacture in one of his sprawling vistums. You should have to dig in with your eyes to work out whats going on.

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Highland Valley# 8 an open crater copper mine in Canada Photograph: Edward Burtynsky/ Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London/ Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Hed like you to dig in a little with your brain more, because these glossy images are no mere enviro-porn. Theres definitely a piou shit! aspect to the undertaking, he says. Were at a critical moment in history where were starting to stumbled the thresholds of human expansion and the limits of what this planet can keep. Were contacting peak oil, top fish, peak beef and the evidence presented is all there to see in the landscape.

Since his interest was first sparked in mortals imprint on the environment in the 1980 s, when he was working part-time in a Canadian gold mine while contemplating photography, Burtynsky has created major bodies of work on everything from the oil industry and mining to quarrying and water, the latest of which have expanded in scope to include documentary film-making.

To achieve his favoured god-like view, he began with high-pitched vantage points and towering tripods, then graduated to telescopic hydraulic poles( think of a 50 ft selfie fasten ), then planes and helicopters, and now computer-controlled monotones. His team scouts potential themes from the consolation of Google Earth, then with GPS technology Burtynsky can specify a position in the air by freedom, longitude and altitude, and send a drone-mounted camera back again and again to the exact same smudge until hes joyous with the shot.

He is currently engaged in a five-year project on the anthropocene, the pending name for the present working geological age in which humen have had a recognizable impact on the environment, works with scientists from the international Anthropocene Working Group. Weve had the five enormous extinguishings, he says, referring to ancient anguishes from the Great Dying of the Permian eruptions, to the asteroid that wiped out the fossils. Now humans are having the equivalent effect of that meteor impact.

If his word is one of impending calamity or certainly a catastrophe thats already happened it is tempered given the fact that these manmade scars are improbably seductive. Who could disclaim the alchemical allure of the toxic phosphor tailings ponds in Florida, or the grace of the scrubby patchwork quilts left by mass deforestation? As Burtynsky declares, his images would be equally at home on a Greenpeace poster or the encompas of an petroleum companys annual report. The duty requests more questions than it reacts, he says. Which is what artists are there to do.

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An outmoded, almost primal flavor salt pans in the Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India. Photo: Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London/ Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Further questions are raised in a brand-new journal that accompanies the exhibition, Essential Elements, which pairs his photographs, sometimes by tonal evaluates or patterns, rhyming the pertinent terms and conditions of rice terraces with those of oil fields, but likewise by narrations that hint at a more critical plan. On one spread, the mirror-glass skyline of Toronto, shot in the late afternoon sun, faces a gnarled gap in the field in Australia, the sundown pinks and turquoises echoing the sandy soil and greenish lagoon at the bottom of the copper quarry. We construct metropolitans and leave gaps in the dirt where they came from, says Burtynsky. He refers to quarries as inverted skyscrapers.

Flicking through the book is like touring the landscapes of late capitalism, drawing the render chains of our customer culture back to both points where the stuff came from and where it purposes up. A study of shiny motorbikes is paired with a stack of tyres, an iron-ore mine with a ship-breaking yard. His post-production can be a little heavy-handed with the differ and saturation tiers, in the quest for pin-sharp lucidity. But “its also” part of his conscious aesthetic: portraits are pumped up until the entire paint plane is flattened into a surface area seething with granular detail, or what he calls the democratic dissemination of light-headed and space across the whole orbit, a impartiality that encourages the eye to wander.

The flattening of these gaping panoramas immerses the observer headfirst into the barriers and supplies, canals and deltas of this world inspection. It draws a visceral feel of places that have been drained, drilled, excavated and removed, terrains that have an outmoded, almost primal experience. This is the fundamental matter from which human civilisation has been wreaked, the landscapes that ought to have mashed and rubbed for their textile merit, ravaged and disfigured on an epic proportion, leaving beautiful residue in their wake.

In our transitory report age, parties think weve are lagging behind the stone, bronze and iron ages, says Burtynsky. But theyre all still in progress we use tonnes of this material every day. You merely have to look.

Edward Burtynsky: Indispensable Components, edited and curated by William A Ewing, issued by Thames& Hudson on 15 September; Salt Panand Critical Points will be on display at Flowers Gallery, London from 16 September-2 9 October.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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