Edward Burtynsky

1. Nickel Tailings #31 (1996)

2. Dam #6 ,Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River (2005)

3. Silver Lake Operations #1, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia (2007)

4. Super Pit #4, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia (2007)

5. Tanggu Port, Tianjin, China (2005)

I've never been particularly interested in landscape photography, but when I discovered the work of Toronto-based photographer Edward Burtynsky today at work I was absolutely enthralled. The McMaster Museum of Art collection includes Nickel Tailings #31 (1996). When I saw it I was instantly compelled to see more of Burtysnky's work.

Landscape photography is characterized by two divergent aims: to glorify nature and/or human achievement or to bring attention to humankind's destruction of the earth. What distinguishes Burtynsky's work from other landscape photography is its fascinating liminality between ugliness and beauty. The uncertain position that the photographs assume incites discomfort in the viewer, who must negotiate between the conflicting feelings of awe and disgust that arise in response to humankind's awesome, yet horrific, mark on nature. In his artistic statement Burtynsky says:

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; 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. (6)

Visit Art Blart and Burtynsky's website to view more of his work. Highly recommended!

There is a documentary by Jennifer Baichwal on Burtynsky's work entitled Manufactured Landscapes from 2007. Here is the trailer:

Sources: 1. The Scream Online; 2 - 5. Art Blart; 6. The Whyte Museum

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