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Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b.1955)
LOT ID: 81376
Shipbreaking #10, Field Proof, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 2000

Chromogenic Print (C-print), from Type 55 Polaroid negative
16 х 20 in. (40.64 x 50.8 cm.)
Signed, and dated on verso.
Edition 17/30
Lot description
Image size is approximately 16 x 20 inches (40.6 x 50.8 cm); paper size is 20 x 24 inches (50.8 x 61 cm); framed. From the Pentimento Portfolio.

The ten field-study prints in this portfolio are culled from over two hundred exposures, the product of two shoots in Bangladesh, the first in the autumn of 2000 and another the following spring. Among large-format photographers at the time, there was something of a cult surrounding Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film. It was extraordinarily accurate for determining exposure and sharpness – and because it provided instant film-to-print processing, one could inspect the negative with a fine magnifying loupe just twenty seconds after exposure, checking compositional decisions in the field.

This instant proofing system also provided a fine-grained 4x5-inch negative. Usually these negatives are discarded, but if handled properly on location, put in a clearing bath soon after exposure, then washed and dried, they can be used later to make high quality black and white prints. For the first time in my production history, I decided to prepare and store these negatives in film boxes.

The resulting large-format colour prints from these trips to Bangladesh, the works for which these field-studies were created, were shown successfully throughout North America. Meanwhile, the Polaroid negatives sat in my vault. Several years later, I asked an assistant to find them and make a set of contact prints. To my horror, the news came back that all my sheets of film had stuck together, resulting in a single block of fused negatives. It seems that the relative humidity of the negatives while in Bangladesh was quite high, and over time they adhere to one another. However, they did come apart with a nasty sound, the emulsion tearing off and leaving parts of itself on adjacent sheets. I separated each one, putting them in archival sleeves and stored them again while I digested the loss. These were the physical relics of a pivotal moment in my life, and I didn’t want them to go.

Several more years went by and my thoughts again returned to them. Curious, I decided to make contact prints. The results surprised me. Those distressed negatives, when printed, echoed the look of an earlier period of photography, when emulsions were more fragile. I was fascinated by the ways in which chance had intervened.

- Edward Burtynsky, “ Pentimento”
Shipbreaking #10, Field Proof, Chittagong, Bangladesh by Edward Burtynsky
  • Shipbreaking #10, Field Proof, Chittagong, Bangladesh by Edward Burtynsky
  • Shipbreaking #10, Field Proof, Chittagong, Bangladesh by Edward Burtynsky
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