Edward Burtynsky, Shipbreaking #24, Field Proof, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 2000. From Pentimento, a portfolio of 10 chromogenic color prints, 2010. © Edward Burtynsky. Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College Art Collection.

Edward Burtynsky,Pentimento, 2010


This portfolio of ten photographs, published to benefit the photography program at Ryerson University in Toronto, where Burtynsky studied, is derived from the original type 55 Polaroid negatives Burtynsky shot during visits to the shipbreaking yards at Chittagong, Bangladesh, in 2000 and 2001. Polaroids, which are now unavailable due to the demise of the legendary company, were typically used by photographers only for focus and exposure and then discarded. In this case Burtynsky saved the negatives for possible future printing.

Years later he revisited them, only to discover that residual moisture in their packing had caused them to stick together. The violent gesture of ripping the negatives apart, damaging the pristine state of the emulsion, rendered them, upon printing, a fitting testimony to the horrifying conditions endured by the exploited workers in the yards, who toil unprotected from the corruption of their employers, the apocalyptic environmental conditions, and the hazardous effects of separating oil, asbestos, and steel with bare hands.