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Anthropocene: A curator’s view

December 11th, 2018

Aerial image of an area in a forest that has been clear cut.

Edward Burtynsky, Clearcut #5, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, 2017. Pigment inkjet print, 148.6 x 198.1 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto © Edward Burtynsky, 2017

Have you seen Anthropocene yet? On now, this major exhibition, featuring stunning works by renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky and award-winning filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier, gives an evocative portrait of how humans are transforming the planet.

Recently, AGO Curator of Photography Sophie Hackett was interviewed by Robyn McCallum, Senior Manager and Curator at Scotiabank, about the exhibition (Scotiabank Wealth Management is the presenting sponsor of Anthropocene). Read on to find out why the exhibition features both film and photographs, why creating a work about Big Lonely Doug was so challenging and how the exhibition can inspire change.

Robyn: Tell us about the types of media in the exhibition.
Sophie: With this project, artists Burtynsky, Baichwal and de Pencier set out to describe the scale and character of places where you can see the extent of human impact on our planet. The artists felt the task was so complex that it needed a multimedia approach. They used a combination of photographs, film installations and photographic murals – each with related short films and augmented reality (AR) installations to provide viewers with a real sense of the scale.

Robyn: One piece, Big Lonely Doug, depicts a single Douglas fir tree standing alone in an area clear-cut by logging. Given the size of the tree, how did the artists approach creating this work?
Sophie: Capturing the enormity of Big Lonely Doug posed a challenge. Burtynsky first tried taking still images of the giant trunk. Baichwal and de Pencier filmed the tree in its environment, using a drone to circle around it and span its full height. Ultimately, the team decided that augmented reality would be the most effective medium. They took more than 3,000 still photographs from all angles and stitched them together to create the final 3-D (three-dimensional) image.

Robyn: Do you think people will see the story of Big Lonely Doug differently now that they can view it at the AGO?
Sophie: I hope so. The fact that this majestic tree stands alone in a heavily-logged area highlights the impact of our decisions. We chose to save Big Lonely Doug – one tree – but we also chose to cut down all the other trees in that cut block.

Robyn: Can we ever see an image without thinking about the social commentary it draws from?
Sophie: This exhibition tackles a topic that we are concerned about as a society. However, the artists composed the photographs and films in such a compelling way that viewers can also admire the beauty in what we’ve created, for better and for worse.

Don’t miss your chance to see this extraordinary exhibition. Anthropocene runs until January 6 at the AGO in the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion. Timed-entry tickets are on sale now at, in person and by phone.

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