Teacher Resources

Edward Burtynsky

Oil Fields #24, Oil Sands, Fort McMurray, Alberta, 2001

Edward Burtynsky records landscapes that have been ravaged to obtain the oil beneath.

He shows us hundreds of people working in rows like robots, constructing consumer goods for Western cultures.

His photos are beautiful documentations that reflect uneasy contradictions if we choose to look deeper.

Essential Questions

  • What is the uneasy contradiction that Burtynsky refers to when he states, "Our dependence on nature to provide materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet set us into an uneasy contradiction."


  • What are the environmental costs we pay when we ravage the land to provide oil and gas for our consumption?
  • Historically, artists have used materials that, while available, are unsafe if safety considerations are not adhered to. The disposal of these materials needs to be considered if we are to seriously care for the health of our planet.
  • Consider what materials you use in your art classes, how they are used and disposed of. What might you do differently to consider the health of the planet?

Suggested Activity

  • Explore Burtynsky's work; it is well documented. Dare to look for the "uneasy contradictions."
  • Over a period of a month, record what you see as the beauty and the beast.
  • How will you record the scenes? Will you use a camera, make quick thumbnail sketches or record the details in a journal for a painting or collage?
  • If you have ever wondered what "having a good eye" means, take a look at Burtynsky's retrospective at www.ccca.ca.