A Different Way to See the World


Tonight Wen and I went to see Manufactured Landscapes, a film that chronicles the work of the Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky (it's also the name of a retrospective book).

The movie was great-particularly the opening scene.  In it, the camera rolls the entire length of a seemingly endless (and endlessly boring) Chinese factory; they appeared to make irons and motors for fans.

The movie as a whole is like Burtynsky's works: it chronicles moments, but does not pass judgment.  Here's how Burtynsky describes his own work:

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 and scale yet open in their meaning.  Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of 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; the 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.

The filmmakers followed Burtynsky on various journeys over the past few years: Azerbaijan, Bangladesh and China (many times).  Almost as interesting as the photos is the scene behind the scene.  For instance, the photo below (of a man leading a donkey through a town being destroyed brick by brick to make way for flooding by China's Three Gorges dam) is staged: in one scene we see Burtynsky's assistant pay him a few yuan after the photo.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

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