Edward Burtynsky, whose photographs, books and films examine human impact on the planet, can't wait to read Peter Wohlleben's book "The Hidden Life of Trees" and would love to dine with Canadian explorer and anthropologist Wade Davis. Photo: Francois Berthier/Contour/Getty Images
Edward Burtynsky on “The Hidden Life of Trees” and how “Sapiens” changed his perspective
The award-winning photographer, filmmaker and author names "Last of the Curlews" as his favourite book of all time / BY Athena McKenzie / May 4th, 2021
Photographer Edward Burtynsky’s award-winning photographs, books and films of industrial landscapes bear witness to humankind’s impact on the planet. His photographs are in the collections of more than 60 major museums around the world. He was awarded an honorary fellowship by the Royal Photographic Society in London last year and, in 2019, won a gold medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for outstanding achievement in the arts, in part for his multimedia Anthropocene Project, as well as a trilogy of documentaries: Manufactured Landscapes, Watermark and Anthropocene: The Human Epoch. He founded Toronto Image Works Limited, a professional photographic lab.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
I recently wrote an endorsement for Mark Carney’s brilliant new book, Value(s): Building a Better World for All. It is an essential read at this critical moment on our planet for anyone interested in a roadmap to ensuring that humanity can experience a “good” Anthropocene (the proposed geological epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems). Carney argues that a return to values driving value is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of future generations. He offers the reader hope that by putting markets in service of values, they can become essential tools in the fight for social and climate justice, and help to ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.
What book can’t you wait to dive into?
I am deeply committed to the preservation of our old growth and ancient forests. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben is a must read for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the relationship trees have to each other, and the entire ecosystem around them. There is far more going on there than meets the eye.
Along these lines, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Overstory by Richard Powers is next on my list. It’s a story that follows five different trees and the nine Americans whose lives and histories are intertwined and entangled with them, and how the acknowledgement of that interconnectedness is essential to our fight for preserving and protecting forests.
What’s your favourite book of all time?
How does one even begin to answer this question? I have so many favourites… one that most probably haven’t heard of is called Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth. It traces the life and the last flight of an incredible bird that was brought to extinction soon after we drove passenger pigeons to the same fate. It was a beautiful way to tell the story of the heroic migration of this now-extinct bird.
What book completely changed your perspective?
Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens brought together so many points of history and our evolution. I got a deeper understanding of all the human constructs that we have put in place that allow a complex society such as ours to exist.
If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be?
I was thrilled to see my friend Wade Davis on a recent cover of Zoomer magazine. His stories and experiences are wide-ranging and humanistic, and his knowledge about our planet is extraordinary. I have had the pleasure of having spent some time with him and I look forward to many more dinners with him. His book Magdalena: River of Dreams is on my must-read list. He is a Canadian treasure.