Watermark, the stunning new documentary from photographer Ed Burtynsky and director Jennifer Baichwal, is the latest installment of Burtynsky’s aqueous trifecta, which launched last year with his series of (often aerial) photographs and his book, both named Water (Steidl).
“Water was always the driver of how humans moved—where they went, where they stayed,” Burtynsky says. From the irrigated grain fields of the arid Southwest to the waterborne abalone farms off the coast of China’s Fujian Province, the film documents myriad kinds of relationships that exist between people and water around the planet—spiritual, cultural, mechanical—on scales ranging from the titanic to the domestic. In one sequence, a wide-screen time lapse conveys the immensity of China’s Three Gorges Dam. In another, we see the dam builders at home eating together and washing their dishes in a long, shared sink.
Despite Burtynsky’s preoccupation with the receding natural world and India’s disappearing water tables, the film is not meant as environmentalist agitprop. Rather, Baichwal and Burtynsky explore the degree to which water and the structures we build to use it or contain it affect lives and landscapes. “It’s primal,” Burtynsky says. “It was always at the center of all of it.” In select theaters; burtynsky-water.com.
Pictured: From the Water Collection: Oil Spill #5, a drilling platform during the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010.