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Edward Burtynsky Helps Turn the Horror of Babyn Yar Into a Place of Hope for Ukraine

2 min read  · 18 May 2023

Babyn Yar Synagogue designed by Manuel Herz architects. Image copyright Iwan Baan

Edward Burtynsky’s HENI Score—a unique artist’s sentiment— has increased an impressive 116% as the globetrotting photographer worked long-distance to help bring hope to war-torn Ukraine.

The Canadian photographer, who was born in 1955 and has Ukrainian heritage, worked with a Swiss architect, a historian and fellow photographers Iwan Baan from the Netherlands and Maxim Dondyu from Ukraine on a project documenting a remarkable new synagogue. It is a powerful memorial marking the site of one of the worst atrocities of the Second World War.

An exhibition about the project, “The Synagogue at Babyn Yar: Turning the Nightmares of Evil into a Shared Dream of Good”, opened in April 2023 at Toronto’s Koffler Centre for the Arts. It tells the story of turning the site of the massacre by Nazi German forces during the “Holocaust by bullets” into a symbol of hope and tolerance by building a small synagogue at the site near Kyiv. Burtynsky worked remotely to direct a shoot by Dondyuk, who was on the spot at the open-sided synagogue in a wooded ravine.

Commissioned by the Babyn Yar Foundation, the Swiss architects Manuel Herz designed the memorial synagogue in just six months. It was completed less than a year before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

He organised a fundraising sale of his work for Ukraine after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022. The sale of editions of two large-format photographs raised more than $550,000 in a matter of hours, he told The Guardian.

Burtynsky, who is best known for creating oversized images documenting the earth and humans' impact on it, went one step further in 2022, projecting his work onto 22 outdoor advertising screens in Toronto’s Dundas Square. The multimedia spectacle is titled, “In the Wake of Progress”.

Edward Burtynsky’s “In the Wake of Progress” in Toronto (2023). Photograph copyright Jim Panou

The photographer told the New York Times: “A lot of public art, I feel, doesn’t directly connect. So I wanted to have the idea of somebody leaving Nordstrom’s with their shopping bag and then, all of a sudden, being swept up into a roller-coaster ride experience.”

The photographer is represented by Flowers Gallery, which presented his latest project “African Studies” as a solo show, first in its London space in 2022 and then in Hong Kong in March 2023.

Burtynsky's auction sales have totalled $493,000 over the past two years. For example, Ölfusá River #1, (2012) sold for $53,300 at Phillips, New York for more than twice the high estimate. Rice Terraces #4, Western Yunnan Province, China (2012) sold for $25,400, also at Phillips, for the estimated price.

To get a deeper understanding of Edward Burtynsky’s career visit his HENI Dashboard; a unique graphical data tool illustrating an artist’s auction sales, shows, profiles, mentions and their HENI Score. You can search for any one of HENI News' 100,000 artist dashboards to quickly appreciate their trajectory as well as sharing via email, text and WhatsApp.


Edward Burtynsky