I felt deeply drawn to Edward Burtynsky’s photographs of devastated lanscapes, where there is no promise of rebirth. His large images provoke feelings of danger and pain. They are associated with “industrial sublime” in which the source of amazement is the influence of human beings upon nature, rather than nature itself. For instance, the red rivers in his Tailings series look like lava flowing from an erupting volcano, but they are not images of natural disaster. They are flows of waste from nickel mines. The intense red and orange colors are caused by the oxidation of iron resulting from the process of separating nickel from other metals. The red color of the flows can be explained scientifically, but in these landscapes, red functions as an exclamation mark for danger. It may look sublime, but it comes from the human abuse of nature.
These works triggered something in me. I took one of Burtynsky’s photographs and spent several months on a project I titled Red River. The series consisted of 23 drawings (mixed media), 50” x 38” of various close-ups of Tailings #30, a photograph that was taken in Sudbury, Ontario.