Photographer David Burdeny documents a grand and endangered landscape.
BY: Ann Rosenberg
Abstract architectonic devices have been central to David Burdeny’s artistic career since he began showing in 2003. In the past, his black and white images, shot in many parts of the world, explored the effects of symmetry and asymmetry. In his Shorelines series (2001 to 2006), docks, abandoned railway tracks, fences, and pilings often thrust the eye to the point at infinity where the sea melted into the sky. It wasn’t important if they were shot in Richmond, Big Sur, Calais or Japan.
At the time, he wrote about his fascination with the light and immensity of the ocean, and his own minuscule place in it. He suggested that the reductiveness of his lens forced viewers to perceive portions of the ocean’s vastness as an unexpectedly formalized landscape. Burdeny mused that the glory of the landscape lay in the small detail in the midst of the water’s size — a slowly moving sky, the sun moving across the surface of boulders, sea foam swirling around pylons.
Twelve recently printed images of icebergs and fragments constitute his fall show at Vancouver’s Jennifer Kostuik Gallery. Touched by subtle light and often alive with spectral colour, the 11 panoramas and one square introductory piece are the pure subjects of a group of works that continue Burdeny’s interpretation of the ice floes in the Arctic (in Canada’s North and in the oceans off Greenland) and of Antarctica. These new images seamlessly extend a series that began in 2007 with his work Iceberg 01, Greenland that is reminiscent of Lawren Harris’s 1930 painting Icebergs in Davis Strait.
Burdeny is aware of the current scientific concern with the unexpectedly rapid melting of ocean ice near both Poles, and the potential consequences of such a catastrophic melt. He believes that human consumption has contributed to global warming, but he didn’t create these images to be a critical part of an ecological dialogue, which he thinks should be left up to experts. He does think that representing the astounding loveliness of the ice should contribute to the desire to do whatever can be done to slow (and even halt) their extinction.
How did he get so close to the icebergs? Just as other tourists do — in the small boats and Zodiacs supplied by trekking companies. How and when did he become a photographer with such a refined and particular aesthetic? That is another question, for which there is a more complex answer.
Burdeny has no exact memory of the first black and white photo he printed in the makeshift darkroom in his bedroom cupboard when he was 12, except that it was a Prairie landscape. The means of expression was new, but his love for the lakes and fields that surrounded Winnipeg, the city where he was born in 1968, was more deeply rooted and would be, in a sense, more long-lasting. Nature, not the urban centre, is his abiding subject, but he also tracks the evidence that attests to the human presence in nature.
In 1993 Burdeny graduated with a Bachelor of Interior Design from the University of Winnipeg. Five years after that, he earned a Master of Architecture from the same institution — he still works as an architect, with a second career as an artist.
His university education probably inspired concepts and compositions, but rather than becoming obvious influences, they reinforced Burdeny’s innate desire to strip away non-essentials in order to reveal what was immutable through change in nature. He absorbed the less is more philosophy of Mies van der Rohe and other Bauhaus architects, leading him to a modern appreciation of pure form, and the non-objective shapes of Russian Suprematist Kazimir Malevich’s paintings perhaps affirmed the artist’s knowledge that the spiritual essence of art could be communicated through deceptively simple means.
In the three series Burdeny has produced so far atmospheric,landscape compositions fill his lens. Shorelinesincludes quiet, contemplative images that he captured with medium-format 2 ¼ x 2 ¼-inch and large format 4 x 5-inch Linhof Field cameras. To produce his recent panoramas, he uses an even larger 8 x 10-inch camera.
As early as 15 years ago, Burdeny had begun to experiment with low light and night photography, which led to the Shorelines project. At that time he discovered that long exposures (even two to three minutes with an open shutter) produced unexpected and often exciting results. His experimentation was inspired by Japanese fine art photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose Theatres series played with the concept of light and exposure, capturing the bright unnaturalness of empty movie theatres as their films flickered. Sugimoto’s Seascapes series also takes on a serene abstractness in its simplicity.
Meticulous high resolution development of the black and white (and now colour) film in his darkroom studio or a lab is critical to the final outcome. And as everyone knows, photo reproduction and photo longevity is in a state of constant improvement, so that images purchased today, if kept under proper conditions, might well last an estimated 170 years, perhaps longer than an iceberg.
David Burdeny opens his show North/South at the Jennifer Kostuik Gallery in Vancouver on September 11, 2008. Burdeny is also represented by Herringer Kiss Gallery, Calgary, Lausberg Contemporary, Toronto, and David Weinberg Gallery, Chicago, among others.