Car-jammed highways loop around one another. Masses of tyres are piled as far as the eye can see. The skeletons of hulking industrial ships dwarf the Bangladeshi people who are commissioned to dismantle them. Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s work In the Wake of Progress shows the trail of destruction humanity leaves on the planet as we fulfil our lust for never-ending growth.

The culmination of a 40-year career devoted to tracking and depicting humankind’s destruction of the planet, the video and photographic work is in turns uncomfortably beautiful in its scale, and haunting in the damage it depicts.

The 22-minute multimedia work is being displayed in Taylor Square, as part of an out-of-season presentation by Sydney Festival. Shown across three towering nine-metre screens, it’s an immersive experience co-produced by celebrated Canadian producer Bob Ezrin, who’s worked with Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel and Lou Reed, and soundtracked by Canadian composer Phil Strong.

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In the Wake of Progress recently premiered in Toronto, and Burtynsky hopes the videos and images will keep conversations around the climate crisis front and centre.

“I’m so grateful to know that we are officially at the beginning of having this work seen by as many people around the world as possible, at a time when awareness of and the need for action on the climate crisis has never been more urgent,” he said in a statement.

Burtynsky has made the trip to Sydney along with his work, and will participate in a series of talks at the Australian Museum. On September 1 he’ll be in conversation about his life and art with ABC Radio’s James Valentine, while the following day he’ll join Craig Reucassel, founder and CEO of 1 Million Women Natalie Isaacs, and global head of investments at Pollination, Diana Callebaut, to discuss solutions to the climate crisis and how we can achieve a sustainable future. And on September 3, he’ll sit on a panel with journalist Daniel Browning and artist and National Museum of Australia curator Kirsten Wehner about photography’s role in witnessing and sharing the impact of humanity on nature.

In the Wake of Progress will screen at Taylor Square from 5pm–10pm daily until September 18.