Sunday, November 30, 2008

Capturing Manufactured Landscapes

Edward Burtynsky is a well-known Canadian photographer who was featured in the documentary, Manufactured Landscapes.

In it he talks about how he doesn't want to praise or condemn industrialization, globalization or consumerism, but instead to bring it to our attention and show us how big an effect it has on our world.

This is his artist statement:
Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail ad scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.

These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire - a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.
And he felt the biggest impact it has made has been in China.

From 2002 to 2005 he made several trips to China, photographing factories, shipyards, cities, recycling yards and the Three Gorges Dam.

The results of his photographs have been presented around the world and are now currently on show at the Paris-Beijing Photo Gallery in the 798 Art District.

Each of the photographs are huge, providing not only a picture of scale, but also little details that make up the sum of the image.

There's one of a shipyard in Zhejiang province, where a worker stands at the bottom of a bow of a ship, several times taller than him. That shipyard is only a medium-sized one and it goes through tens of thousands of tons of steel per year making over a hundred cargo ships.

Another is at a chicken processing plant in Jilin province. Burtynsky gives an overview shot of the place, and all the workers are hunched over the processing line cutting up chicken parts, dressed in pink uniforms and blue aprons. It's interesting to note that while they wear caps over their heads, many don't wear gloves handling the raw meat.

He also documents not only the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, but also the destruction, with pictures of people hauling away millions of bricks where houses once stood. And maybe by now that same area is already flooded under water. By next year when the dam is completed, some 13 cities will be under water.

And then there is a photograph with a colourful array of colours in a wavy pattern. But when you look up close, it's millions of fragments of plastic toys, dismembered and sorted in terms of colour. They are all used toys, dumped, discarded, forgotten.

While recycling is something citizens in the west are urged do to protect the environment, in China it's an industry with economic benefits. However, there are environmental and health issues around the breaking down of such materials, like polluted rivers and people exposed to dangerous chemicals, affecting their health.

Burtynsky's photographs look elegant at first, with beautiful lines or present a seemingly calm image. But when you look closer and realize the thousands of people in the factory line, or the little bits of plastic in giant piles, it clearly becomes disturbing and frightening

We need his images to shock more of us into realizing and understanding what we are doing to our planet so that we won't take Mother Nature for granted anymore.


ks said...

wonder if burtynsky has published a coffee table size book of his manufactured landscapes. i want to see them all.

IheartNY said...

I saw the Burtnsky show in NYC and then the documentary on CBC. It is disturbing yet awesome to see the scale and the pace of the change that he has documented.

IheartNY said...

For KS:

Edward Burtynsky: Uneasy Beauty - Photographs of Canada, Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey, British Columbia, January 17 - March 22