“Our planetary system is affected by a magnitude of force as powerful as any naturally occurring global catastrophe, but one caused solely by a single species: us.”- Edward Burtynsky
‘African Studies’, the recent, Steidl-published book by internationally acclaimed, Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, is a captivating and thought-provoking portrait of Africa’s rapidly evolving landscape.
For over four decades, Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has been photographing landscapes across the globe, capturing striking, large-scale imagery that tells a story of a planet reshaped by human ambition.
In his latest project, he spent seven years photographing the nations that make up Sub-Saharan Africa, documenting the terraforming, extraction, urbanization, and deforestation that is rapidly transforming the region.
Burtynsky’s ability to render landscapes into abstract masterpieces is on display in the book. Predominantly comprised of his trademark, wide aerial shots captured from helicopters and drones, the 167 images showcase breathtaking natural vistas, bustling cityscapes, expansive oil fields, vast salt flats, and mineral mines.
Beautifully presented in large scale by Steidl, each photograph commands attention, enabling readers to appreciate the scale, grandeur and complex details within.
It is a body of work that exemplifies Burtynsky exceptional photographic skill, his ability to strike a balance between honesty and artistry, capturing breathtaking images that possess a captivating quality akin to fine art, yet simultaneously, eloquently convey the vast scale and intricate nature of the devastation faced by Africa’s landscapes.
Accompanying the images are insightful essays contributed by Burtynsky himself, as well as other experts. These not only provide context for the photographs, but also offer a deeper understanding of the environmental, social, and economic impact of Africa’s transformation.
The inspiration for this project can be traced back to Burtynsky’s work in China nearly two decades ago, where he witnessed the rapid industrial expansion and the shifting global landscape and recognized the potential for a similar pattern to emerge in Africa.
Now, two decades on, the pace of globalization has accelerated, and China’s influence on the continent is profound. The book’s final section delves into this influence, capturing the infrastructure and mega-factories established by Chinese companies, offering a captivating glimpse into the economic relationship between China and Africa, and the impact of this collaboration on the continent.
‘African Studies’ is more than a collection of photographs; it is a powerful documentary in its own right. The images masterfully convey both beauty and devastation, inviting readers to contemplate the urgent need to address planetary ruin and its far-reaching consequences. It further cements Burtynsky’s place as one of the most important photographers of our time, demonstrating his skill, vision, and profound commitment to highlighting the challenges faced by humanity in creating a sustainable future.
All images © Edward Burtynsky
African Studies is published by Steidl