No single human being can live without water. We need it to hydrate ourselves, harvest crops to feed ourselves, produce energy and countless other means to stay alive. However, despite the simple fact that water is an essential element for all humankind, we tend to neglect the benefits it brings to us. The photography project Water by the award-winning photographer Edward Burtynsky illustrates the ways in which water drives our lives and why we should pay attention to its importance.
Similar to the focus of other works by Edward, the project outlines how the human species interferes with the water and what traces we leave on the Earth in accordance with it.
Edward states, “We have to learn to think more long-term about the consequences of what we are doing, while we are doing it. My hope is that these pictures will stimulate a process of thinking about something essential to our survival; something we often take for granted—until it’s gone.”
One part of the project focuses on the beauty of water in various domains of our lives. The pieces depicting agricultural and aquacultural regions delineate how water helps us to feed ourselves and sustain our lives. The huge-scaled food and power production systems give us awe about the immense impact that water leaves on humans worldwide.
The photographs do not only illustrate the water as a life necessity but also as a source of joy and unity. The pieces depicting water along with crowds show how we enjoy the water for entertainment and peace. Edward states, “We have a deep human desire to be in the presence of water, so I tried to find the imagery and the ideas that spoke to that, so it led me to the Kumbh Mela festival, the largest pilgrimage of humans on the planet, but their pilgrimage is to water.”
At the same time, another side of the project focuses on how we exploit and destroy water with our presence. In conjunction with the photographs depicting festive, serene scenes surrounded by water, the ocean covered with oil gives us a sense that we need action to fix it.
The project touches upon the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Clean Water and Sanitation and Climate Action. Following the severed trend of climate change, water is going extinct around the world. According to the observation by the weather satellites, Lake Mead, “an indicator of the West’s greater water supply as a whole,” arrived at the record-low water level after getting lower every year since 1983. Furthermore, Italy is experiencing “the most serious water crisis of the last 70 years” due to the severe drought following climate change.
The changes in the ecosystem would make water less and less available across the nations if we apply no means to stop or at least slow the trend. “Water is not optional, but to me, as a liquid, it was the ultimate thing that provides for life, and if it’s missing, you know, humans have to leave that area,” Edward stated. If we want to preserve the water and the conveniences it provides across generations, we must thoroughly consider how the water benefits us, the negative impacts we leave on it, and how to dampen them.
You can learn more about Edward Burtynsky on his website.