EXCLUSIVE: Edward Burtynsky on finding inspiration for his new documentary “Watermark”

World renowned Canadian Photographer Edward Burtynsky tells us about the motivations behind his most recent project – Water.  This five year endeavour found him creating not only a photographic series, a book and an App, but co-directing the feature length documentary film WATERMARK alongside Jennifer Baichwal.
Written by Edward Burtynsky, Photographer & Filmmaker
I began to think about water as a subject for my work in 2007, while on a production tour photographing gold mines in Australia—the first continent in this era to begin drying up. Stories about farmers leaving as their land dehydrated were everywhere in the news. While there I met a photojournalist who recounted a story about an incident he had experienced in a bar in Adelaide. He ordered a beer and a glass of water, finished his beer, paid the bill and was about to leave when the bartender stopped him and instructed him to finish his glass of water. Suddenly water took on a new meaning for me. I realized water, unlike oil, is not optional. Without it we perish.

© Sixth Wave Productions
© Sixth Wave Productions

I thought about ways that I could build a body of work around the idea of water. With water I had no preconceived notions about what the images in such a project might look like. I trusted that my intuition would lead me to the pictures.
As production on the Water project began to roll out I categorized the images into: distress, control, agriculture, aquaculture, waterfront, and source.
Distress included landscapes such as the Colorado River Delta, that has not seen a drop of water from that river in over forty years, and is now a desert; or Owens Lake, which saw its water diverted to Los Angeles in 1913 and is now a dry toxic lakebed.
Agriculture represents – by far – the largest human activity on the planet. Approximately seventy percent of all fresh water under our control is dedicated to agriculture . I went to China and Spain to see the process of farming fish and seafood.
Marine Aquaculture #1, Luoyuan Bay, Fujian Province, China 2012 © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg Gallery & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York
Marine Aquaculture #1, Luoyuan Bay, Fujian Province, China 2012 © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg Gallery & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York

The section, Aquaculture provides a glimpse into a quickly growing and increasingly important food source.
Waterfront looks at the way we shape land to create manufactured waterfront properties, and speaks to me about the human need and desire to be near water—even if it is artificial. I went to India to witness the largest pilgrimage on the planet with thirty- five million people, arriving on the holiest day to bathe in the Ganges and release them of their sins – an ancient spiritual belief in the cleansing power and sacredness of water.
Finally, source comes from my journey to those places where a critical stage in the hydrological cycle takes place; in the mountains, containing glaciers and pure fresh snow. I went to northern British Columbia and Iceland to capture these images. They are the first landscapes in over thirty years that I have have focused specifically on pristine wilderness, instead of the imposition of human systems upon it.
Over the past five years I have learned a few things about water. When disrupted from its natural course there are always winners and losers. The moment water cannot find its own way back to the ocean or be absorbed by the ground, we are changing the landscape. When a stream or river is diverted, all life downstream is affected and remains altered until water returns. Insects, plants, frogs, salamanders and countless other creatures – including people – have paid an enormous price because of our voracious appetite for water—and what we do to the earth while getting at it.
Watermark opens in select cities across Canada on October 11th.  
Meet Directors Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky on October 11th
Acclaimed Directors Jennifer Baichwal & Edward Burtynsky will be in attendance at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas in Vancouver after the 7pm screening on October 11th for a special Q&A on their film WATERMARK!