It’s Not You, It’s Me: Our Complicated Relationship with Water

Water is all around us, it flows through us, protects us, and washes over us. Yet even still, we tend to take it for granted.

Edward Burtynsky examines this relationship by photographing water around the world; he encourages us to think about how we impact the resource that is so essential to our existence.

Burtnynsky captures water in varied contexts, but for a common effect: to show water as a nurturing source for human life, an avenue for emotional connection, an occasional victim, and an ultimately finite, mortal element; he personifies water as mother.

He writes, “[we] come from nature…there is an importance to [having] a certain reverence for what nature is because we are connected to it… If we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves.”

To expand our understanding of water as our provider, Burtynsky’s aerial shots lift us out of our own minds, communities, and countries to witness how we interact with water as a collective. His style oscillates between super realistic and dream-like, highlighting the importance of our physical dependence on water while also playing to our deep emotional connection with this life-source.

From vantage points unknown to the common man, we behold water’s power in Icelandic rivers and Chinese dams.

We soak in the scale of human desire to be near water, whether for ritual or relaxation.

Perhaps most importantly, Burtynsky reveals our attempts to manipulate water. We see the human ingenuity behind harnessing water with step-wells and industrial dams while also bearing witness to draining agricultural practices and the confusing home developments atop natural water sources, decorated with artificial pools.

Burtynsky’s photos come down to this: we have the power to control our environment. The question is: what will we do to ensure that we can continue to leverage our environment’s power?