May 6, 2005

Edward Burtynsky’s Manufactured Landscapes

By Geneva Gamez

The Museum of Photographic Arts’ current show will be coming to its end soon. This is an exhibition I would highly recommend you try to make before it’s gone. The two featured exhibitions are Edward Burtynsky’s Manufactured Landscapes, and Andrea Modica’s Treadwell/Fountain double series. In these photographs each photographer portrays through visual aspect their contribution to a better future.

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.

-Edward Burtynsky

Burtynsky’s series is composed of large-scale color photographs of manufactured landscapes that weigh a lot more than the title already suggests. These photographs are so perfectly delicate in color, angle, and beauty you almost forget their purpose is to show the drastic impact industrial developments have on the environment.

A pile of worn out tires, tangled telephone cords accompanying old telephones, and car engines at beautiful green junk yards sitting to rust, are reflective photos of the suffering our environment goes through as we use and discard these objects as granted luxuries that make our everyday a lot easier. A photograph of dismantling ships at sea with surrounding spilled oil, and a hiding sunset in the midst is a disappointing reminder of the many priorities we give everything on earth except Earth itself. The sun standing in the background, as it rapidly sets, is metaphoric of the pace with which we continue to kill life, even as we know it and even see and hear it showing us so.

There’s more to be said for the objects found in these photographs than a soon-to-be distorted natural landscape though. In a photograph titled “Densified Tin Cans”, it becomes hard to observe the photo for what it is physically without giving its content value; the photo consists of cans, all kinds of cans that endlessly overflow within the frame. Canned food cans, beer cans, sauce cans, etc. you name the can and it’s there.

Rock of Ages

The densified cans really make an impact when you think of the pain and stain the environment will one day see as a cause of these cans. In addition to that concern is the thought of the thousands of meals served dependent of the food canned inside these now rusted and flatly plastered cans. It really raises the question of how we value life, not only environmentally but also personally. It literally serves as food for thought to think that a large number of people’s daily bread breaks down to those cans, some by choice and others with no other option; regardless, the nutritional value is dissipated.

It’s only logic to assume that if we don’t care for ourselves, we won’t care for anything exterior, as is the environment.

Burtynsky’s photographs may be beautiful, but look closely and you’ll see he never loses sight of his intention to show the problematic expansion of housing and development, manufacturers setting their tools on virgin areas, railroads opening way through mountains, large ships breaking through water and polluting beaches. Burtynsky knows exactly where his focal lens is aimed, and each photo is further proof of the ecological devastation of manufacturing landscapes.

Edward Burtynsky will be discussing his photographs at the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theater at the Museum of Photpgraphic Arts (MoPA) next Thursday, May 12th at 7:00 PM. His exhibition will run through June 5th, 2005.

Note: Last year, Burtynsky was granted the prize of $100,000 at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference. The TED conference is made up of 50 speakers who offer their ideas and inventions to an audience of critical thinkers; through sharing their ideas, three participants are granted funds to proceed with their passion to bring their ideas/inventions to flourish. During his speech, Burtynsky made three wishes: to bring people together to participate in a productive global conversation; the second was to raise environmental consciousness among grade school children by empowering them to propose solutions and act upon them; the third was to find the right medium to extend his artwork to the lacking audience that doesn’t go to museums or otherwise not have the opportunity to see his work. For this he was an IMAX film in mind.

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