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Marine Aquaculture 1 Luoyuan Bay Fujian Province China 2012
CREDIT: Edward Burtynsky

How I see the bigger picture by Edward Burtynsky HonFRPS

He is renowned for ambitious images that expose humanity’s impact on the natural world. Here the Honorary Fellow describes one of his most difficult shoots yet

‘Marine Aquaculture #1, Luoyuan Bay, Fujian Province, China, 2012’, by Edward Burtynsky HonFRPS


“One of the most ambitious and challenging images I have ever made is of fish farms in Luoyuan Bay, just off the coast of Fujian province, China,” says Edward Burtynsky HonFRPS.

“In 2010 I was working on my project about water. I had wanted to do something on aqua farming, and my research had revealed that 70% of the global supply of farmed fish comes from China, and that just over half of that from these floating fish farms outside Fujian, in the South China Sea.

“I arrived with my tripod and my camera, thinking I would charter an aircraft, but it turns out there’s no civil aviation in China. I looked into military helicopters. They said, ‘Sure, we’ll rent you one’, but the conditions were insane – I had to pick five hours and stick to those five hours, whatever the conditions, and it was going to cost in the region of 75,000 Canadian dollars. 

We had to fly the drone guy from Seattle, me from Toronto, then obtain permission to fly it. All in all, the final image took me two years to make.

“But by now I’d seen these farms, and I was desperate to photograph them. So my team and I began discussing the possibility of attaching my Hasselblad to a drone, and sending it 800-1,000ft up. It took a long time, but eventually we found a guy building drones that were large enough to carry it, and that were also stable enough for us to see, control and shoot the images from the ground.

“Back then, the [drone] technology required I have one person to fly it, someone else controlling the gimbal, and me directing. We had to fly the gimbal guy in from LA, the drone guy from Seattle, me from Toronto, then obtain permission from the Chinese authorities to fly it. All in all, the final image took me two years to make.”


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