Michael Snow
Clothed Woman (In Memory of my Father) 1963
oil and lucite on canvas
152 x 386.2 cm
Purchased 1966
National Gallery of Canada

Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate

Ottawa - June 26, 2008

An exhibition that reveals compelling evidence of the perils of progress in the industrialized world

The drama and danger of man’s degradation of planet earth plays out in the latest exhibition presented by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (CMCP). Co-sponsored by Oakland University Art Gallery, Rochester, Michigan and CONTACT Toronto Photography Festival, Toronto, Ontario, this powerful exhibition is on view from June 27 until October 13, 2008 at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC).

Captured through the lenses of 12 celebrated North American photographers, Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate explores large-scale ecological issues caused by the industrialized world. With the goal of reaffirming the urgency of a global response, the exhibition features 56 provocative testimonies of North America’s most celebrated photographers – Edward Burtynsky, John Ganis, Peter Goin, Emmet Gowin, David T. Hanson, Jonathan Long, David Maisel, David McMillan, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, John Phahl and Mark Ruwedel. Together, their works bear witness to the profound transformation of our world and underscore the recklessness of human stewardship.

Taken from a variety of visual perspectives and using a wide range of techniques, the selected works look beyond the realm of domesticity, such as recycling, household water usage and fuel consumption, to emphasize the effects of social behaviours, industrial practices, corporate priorities and governmental policies. By focusing on industrial complexes, mining sites, dried-up lakes, landfills, waste ponds, nuclear test sites and other exclusion zones in locations around the world, they focus on the bigger picture of human encroachment on the environment.

Exhibition Themes
The exhibition is organized in three central themes.

Scarring the Earth’s Surface
The first explores the scarring of the earth’s surface through human intervention. Examples include David T. Hanson’s Wasteland Series, which amalgamates topographical maps, aerial views and government reports, to draw attention to the worst toxic sites on U.S. soil. His works are an unambiguous indictment of current industrial practices. Emmet Gowin and David Maisel also use aerial photography to expose ravaged landscapes to reveal the paradoxical relationship between degradation and beauty.

Resource Industries
The second theme addresses the management and exploitation of natural resources which figures prominently among the concerns of all these environmental photographers. They show man’s insatiable hunger for energy. John Ganis’ portrayal of the Alaska pipeline illustrates how the aluminum-sheathed conduit invades an otherwise majestic frontier like some bionic earthworm. Edward Burtynsky’s monumental depiction of the Three Gorges Project – the “leviathan” dam designed to harness hydro-electric power from the Yangtze River is charged with the portent of imminent events. It demonstrates man’s blind faith in progress propelling a risky enterprise that not only engulfed the age-old serenity of this ancient riverscape, but also ignored the potentially cataclysmic repercussions of tampering with nature.

Exclusion Zones
The third theme focuses on the afterlife of sites deemed to be irretrievably damaged. These are illustrated by exclusion zones which are proliferating around the globe. Significant tracts of land once devoted to the promise of progress, such as the development of nuclear energy plants, have since become so polluted that they are rendered uninhabitable and a danger to the human race. David McMillan’s portrayal of Chernobyl is a classic example of a once-thriving community that has faded beyond recognition. Mark Ruwedel’s series on The Hanford Stretch consider man’s mark on the Columbia River, the home of nine nuclear reactors between 1944 and 1990.

These photographers’ shared concerns reflect the multiple links to be found between their various bodies of work. In the exhibition, certain notorious sites are depicted by more than one photographer, emphasizing both a plurality of perspectives and the degree of danger they contain. Ultimately, all these works reveal a pattern of monolithic degradation.

“While the exhibition does not attempt to present a comprehensive survey, these images paint a chilling portrait of the growing dangers faced by the human race,” said exhibition curator, Dr. Claude Baillargeon. “Collectively, these images call for the necessity of concerted actions against the ‘shattering’ of the earth.”                                                                                                                       

“It is the first time that CMCP has brought together Canadian and American photographers to illustrate such an important issue from a global perspective” said Martha Hanna, Director of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. “This exhibition makes a significant contribution to the world of contemporary photography and forces humankind to contemplate its self-destructive tendencies.”

“We are honoured to host this exhibition,” said National Gallery of Canada director, Mr. Pierre Théberge. “The works of these renowned artists are both tragic and inspiring and will undoubtedly spark thought and debate among our visitors.”

Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate is made possible through generous loans by the artists as well as a number of galleries in Canada and the United States. After its showing at the National Gallery of Canada, it will be on view at the Brunier Art Museum at Iowa State University from November 1, 2008 to March 1, 2009.

About the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography is an affiliate of the National Gallery of Canada. Its collection comprises over 161,000 images (17,000 photographic works and 144,000 negatives and transparencies), and has been developed through purchases, assignments and donations of the best documentary and art photography by Canadian photographers. The variety and range of its collection make CMCP a unique institution in Canada, and one of only a few national museums devoted exclusively to photography in the world. Most exhibitions organized by the CMCP for presentation in Ottawa are then made available to venues across the country and abroad through the National Gallery’s “On Tour” programme. The CMCP continues to acquire the works of photographers currently living and working in Canada. For more information, visit www.cmcp.gallery.ca/imaging.

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art in the world. In addition, it has pre-eminent collections of Inuit, Western and European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, American and Asian Art, as well as drawings and photography. Created in 1880, it is among the oldest of Canada’s national cultural institutions. As part of its mandate to make Canadian art accessible across the country, the NGC has one of the largest touring art exhibition programs in North America. For more information, visit www.gallery.ca.


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For more information, please contact:

Josée-Britanie Mallet
Senior Media and Public Relations Officer
National Gallery of Canada

Claire Schofield
Manager, Communications and Public Relations
National Gallery of Canada