This new video was premiered at the MANTIS Festival of Electro-Acoustic Music at the University of Manchester (UK) on November 27th, 2022 and will see more screenings throughout 2023. It’s a unique hybrid project that I developed with composer David Berezan during the first two years of the pandemic. It took a while to take this final form and for an appropriate title to emerge but David Berezan and I immediately took to Hydrology. I strongly advise a big screen and good sound system!
HYDROLOGY – the study of the distribution and movement of water both on and below the Earth’s surface, as well as the impact of human activity on water availability and conditions.
Work on Hydrology began during the first post-covid lockdown “re-opening” in the summer of 2020. At the first opportunity I revisited the banks of the Capilano River where I grew up in the shadow of Cleveland Dam during the 1970s. Built in 1954, the dam necessitated the downstream construction of the Capilano Salmon Hatchery in 1971 after it choked off the natural salmon spawning grounds, transforming them into one of Vancouver’s three main lake reservoirs. These were two human interventions into natural water flows and processes which I never questioned at the time. But revisting this place during climate breakdown and a pandemic had me fearing for these systems on many levels.
I set myself the task of photographing the rushing waters of the river, using slow shutter speeds paired with deliberate hand held camera movement. I then moved on to the slower moving, semi-sheltered waters around Galiano Island, the open waters of the Salish Sea and finally to the play of water over rock, flora and fauna in the intertidal zones at Cape Roger Curtis at the southern tip of Bowen Island. I learned to observe the ever changing surfaces, to identify changing palettes and how to capture the water’s movement in a way that either complimented the flow or went against it. Then came the decision to merge it all in video form.
At this point, composer David Berezan came on to the project as we’d established a relationship between his music and my photography when working on cover imagery for his CD releases in recent years. In particular, his last release on empreintes DIGITALes; Cycle Nautique presented a soundworld and way forward for this project. His interest in playing the macro and micro soundworlds of ocean sounds off of each other and our mutual interest in ambient music made this a perfect partnership.
Pacing was critical. The opening sequence uses time lapse photography to introduce the subject matter then shifts to slowing animated stills taking the viewer into less certain territory where things begin to become more abstract. I’m always interested in slowing the perception of time.
The animation is intended to confound expectation, as nature sometimes does, with the currents and flows deliberately altered. There is always something slightly off about the images in the same way we know something is slightly off about our weather patterns. Then there is also the perception of scale. Sometimes the camera is inches from water, other times a hundred metres or so. And then blending the two enhances the sense of disorientation.
Much of the colour comes from the images made at Cape Roger Curtis. The vibrant reds, greens, blues and golds come from the play of light and water on rock formations covered with kelp, mussels, algae and so forth. But the shocking and unprecedented “heat dome” weather event of June 2021 affected billions of sea creatures in BC’s tidal waters, baking them during a horribly timed extreme low tide. And it was in August of 2021 that I created several of the stills used in this production so, consequently, the tans, reds and oranges, as lovely as they are, are the result of this catastrophe; the colour of death and decay. In other words, climate change has directly affected the colour palette you see in the video.
In the end, the video is intended to beguile the viewer and stir interest in the power, beauty and predicament of our ecosystems.
When you have a chance to talk to an artist whose work you’ve admired for years, it’s tempting to get lost in the details of the work, of discussing the whys and wherefores of particular images and the thinking behind them. But with the nature of Edward Burtynsky’s photography and the thickening onslaught of news about climate change, economic dependence on fossil fuels, and, specifically of interest to BC; the drought in California, it is sometimes best to simply talk about what is most pressing and present.
When I first met Burtynsky in 2006 to do a portrait for VR, he was in town to promote the China images being shown at Presentation House. At the time I asked if seeing the planet so thoroughly and irreparably scarred and polluted was taking a personal toll on him. As with his images, which can be simultaneously seductive and appalling, the answer was ambiguous. We need things. We need them to survive and thrive. And there is a cost.
In March, Burtynsky was in town to promote A Terrible Beauty, an exhibit of his work which includes images from his latest body of work on the subject of water. It also coincides with the donation of many pieces to the Vancouver Art Gallery collection. The show runs until May 26th.
For BC and Vancouver viewers, I thought it best to begin by asking his views on the potential impacts we might feel as a result of the massive drought currently affecting California.