You’ve probably seen Edward Burtynsky’s images before, but to be honest, they haven’t hit you until you’ve seen a large print of them.
His work (at least the stuff I find myself responding to most strongly) has been about Manufactured Landscapes – which is exactly what it sounds like. Humans have created landscapes around them, from large dams to cities. We have come to take them for granted, but through his work they become a much more defined experience… maybe because most people rarely stop to look at the world. He is not judgmental in his work, although he’ll tell you that in most cases there is no need to be judgmental – people see what they want. Some see permanent distruction, others perceive environmental or human rights issues that need to be corrected, and just as many see progress, work, and the future arriving.
There are two books of his work that I really enjoy, but what I really want to recommend is a DVD about his work in China called… Manufactured Landscapes. The film is directed by Jennifer Baichwal. It is interesting to see him work (5×7 Large Format, most shots checked with Polaroid, not sure how is going to work now that Fuji is the last one standing) but of course it is also a unique tour through industrial China. We rarely get to see the world of their factories and their manufacturing. The movie does a great job of juxtaposing the life-cycles of products – the assembly of high-tech equipment, and a village in which every resident disassembles consumer electronics – with great consequence to their health. In a later segment, we see how large container and commodity ships are built en masse, and disassembled into tiny pieces at the end of their life in a different part of the country.
Also fascinating is how entire cities are employed with tearing down their own neighborhoods to make room for the Three Gorges dam that is going to flood their valley upon completion.
The DVD is a must-have for your collection!