There was one simple reason to visit Sudbury: Edward Burtynsky's work. Having recently seen his Manufactured Landscapes exhibition, his photographs of mining tailings still resonated deeply. Could landscapes like this exist so close to home?
Sudbury is located 390 km (240 miles) north of Toronto — about 5 hours by car. The region's roots are in mining and mine headframes dot the horizon. The mining giant INCO (now Vale) was a huge presence and employed a significant portion of the population. Burtynsky's photos documented bleak landscapes overrun by tailings — the left over materials once the valuable parts are removed from what has been mined.
When part of the landscape is sectioned off, contained, and pumped with tailings, it's known as a tailing pond. These can be huge. They're the most visible environmental consequence from the mining industry. In the case of our visit, we encountered tailing ponds that covered 25 km2 (10 mi2) in the town of Lively, just west of Sudbury. Over time, the tailing ponds (valleys, areas of lower elevation, etc.) are slowly filled. In some cases you can see how much has been filled in by spotting partially buried trees. The effect is bizarre, beautiful and sad at the same time.
To be clear, there's no ‘political’ motivation behind these photos. For me they're fascinating other-worldly landscapes produced as a by-product of industrial progress. If I had the chance to photograph something like this again, I'd take it without a second thought.