Renowned Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky struggled to start kindergarten in St. Catharines, Ontario: He continued to speak Ukrainian, the first language he learned.
Today, the son of Ukrainian immigrants who arrived in Canada around 1949 is particularly aware of these roots. He still has relatives in Ukraine, including two of his mother’s great-nieces, whose family is keeping a close eye on safety. He has helped raise funds for the war-ravaged country and is preparing to sponsor refugees.
As he accepted the Outstanding Contribution to Photography award at the Sony World Photography Awards in London on Tuesday, he made a statement dedicating the honor to Ukrainian artists – particularly photographers who documented the war started by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“As a Canadian-Ukrainian, I would like to share this award with Ukrainian artists, many of whom bravely document the desecration of their people and land.
“Photography embodies truth in a way that transcends language, culture, borders and time. In the face of fake news and Putin’s vicious disinformation campaign, Ukrainian photographers are using this moment to show the world the truth.
“Their dedication to their art, even as their cities are surrounded by invading Russian forces who are terrorizing their doorsteps, is a bravery that humbles me.
“Photography is light conquering darkness. And as we speak, Ukrainian photographers are conquering an unimaginable form of darkness. I can think of no more outstanding contribution to photography than that one.
In an interview, he notably pointed to the work of Maxim Dondyuk, a photographer he sponsors and with whom he plans to collaborate.
“He never intended to be a war photographer. He wanted to be an art photographer, but with the war he felt compelled,” Burtynsky said.
He also mentioned the work of the late Maks Levin, who was killed near kyiv earlier this month, and that of Julia Kochetova and Arthur Bondar, all of whom photographed the war.
Burtynsky is internationally recognized for his monumental photographs of landscapes and industrial processes such as mines, oil fields and factories. The Sony Outstanding Contribution Award, now in its 15th year, honors a person or group who has had a significant impact on the medium.
In addition to sharing the honor with Ukrainian artists, Burtynsky raised nearly $700,000 for the Red Cross in March by promising prints of his photographs to donors who showed him receipts for $10,000 donations to the charity.
Burtynsky’s parents came to Canada separately but under similar circumstances. After the Nazi occupation of Ukraine during World War II, both were sent to Germany, where they worked as slaves on farms. When the war ended, each remained in Germany rather than returning to Ukraine, which was then back under Soviet rule. Burtynsky said that as a daughter, her mother, Mary, saw people in her village starve to death during the Holodomor, the 1932-33 famine induced by Joseph Stalin.
In the late 1940s, they finally found their way to Canada and met. They first lived in Kapuskasing, Ontario, where Burtynsky’s father, Peter, was working on a forest and lake surveying project. He then worked on the General Motors assembly line and died of cancer in his 40s. Today she lives in a retirement home in Barrie, Ontario, but as long as Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, she was active in a women’s fundraising group that supported independence. of the country vis-à-vis Russia.
“The whole conversation was about the liberation of Ukraine,” Burtynsky said, adding that his mother was very saddened by this new war: “At 98, she says, ‘I wish I didn’t have to witness this ‘”.
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