Workspace of the Month: Inside Ed Burtynsky’s Studio

The photographer's workspace is where he spent most of the pandemic developing his latest exhibition, In the Wake of Progress
Ed Burtynsky in his workspace (photography: Patrick Marcoux)

In our Workspace series, CB is featuring interesting, smart-designed and one-of-a-kind spaces across Canada. From innovative home offices to out-of-the-box co-working spaces to unconventional setups—like this beauty company run out of a rural farmhouse and this vintage-clothing studio—we are looking to showcase the most unique and beautiful spaces from all industries. This month we are profiling the studio of Canadian photographer Ed Burtynsky.

Ed Burtynsky has been documenting the effects of industrialization and climate change for more than four decades. The Toronto-based landscape photographer has travelled across the world, from India to Australia, capturing the impact humans—and machines—have on the planet.

He works out of a loft-style studio in a heritage building in downtown Toronto—a spot he’s had for about 20 years. Burtynsky first set-up his photo lab in the commercial building in mid ’80s, and took over more room as his career grew. (He still has his lab, which is down the hall from his studio.) The artist worked with designers Lynn Appleby and David Didur on the interior, creating a functional open space that allows him and his team—a handful of collaborators who share the space—to work on projects. Tables for laying out prints are in the centre of the room, and a large “working wall” allows the artist to hang photographs with magnets for inspection.

In Burtynsky’s personal office—a room that is separated by glass doors—a bookshelf lines the wall with thousands of photo books. The books are largely by visual artists, who like Burtynsky, document the state of our environment, and are catalogued like a library. “I’ve organized them so that they can be loaned out,” he says.

Burtynsky’s workspace is also where he spent most of the pandemic developing his latest exhibition, In the Wake of Progress. The multimedia, immersive exhibit features selected photographs and video from his 40-year career that capture the impact of things like deforestation, agriculture, mining and manufacturing. “I want the audience to walk away with a deeper appreciation for the consequences of individual human actions as well as our collective actions,” he says. The interactive exhibit is on view at the Canadian Opera Company Theatre from June 25 until July 17.

Here’s a look inside Burtynsky’s workspace.

In the centre of Burtynsky’s workspace is a large table where he and his team look at his prints. The brown wall behind is a magnetized “working wall” where photographs are hung and examined. Adjustable overhead lighting allows Burtynsky to view the art under various conditions, including gallery lighting, to understand what pieces will look like in a space. “I’m always interested in the viewer who comes to the exhibition,” Burtynsky says. “I want them to have a satisfactory experience with the work.”
A photo of inside Ed Burtynsky's studio in Toronto
Burtynsky has multiple tables in his studio. He will design exhibits and have layouts printed to see if the placements work. “It’s a legend for the show,” he explains.
A portrait of photographer Ed Burtynsky in his office
Burtynsky at his desk. He estimates that he has about 2,000 photo books in his office.
In the back of his workspace is an inventory room where prints are mounted once they are purchased. It is also where the artist does all his signing.
Burtynsky has signed hundreds of copies of his exhibit book for In the Wake of Progress.