Edward Burtynsky is a Canadian photographer who is known for vast landscapes of industrial sites. He has traveled to India, Bangladesh, China, all over continental North America and other places to capture human impacts on the land and seas. In galleries the images are displayed in large format, sometimes taking up an entire wall, allowing viewers to see the detail, to spot tiny little humans working in immense landscapes of production and destruction. Strangely, the images are always striking and often very beautiful. The reviews claim he
raises all kinds of questions about ethics and aesthetics without trying to easily answer them.
Manufactured Landscapes is a full-length documentary on Burtynsky's recent trip to China to observe and document the effects of the rapidly industrialized economy. It was shown at the VIFF this year and is now playing at the Fifth Avenue Cinema for a few weeks. As a movie, it is fairly low quality and low budget. There is some narration and some commentary by Burtynsky, but overall the images are left to speak for themselves. It's amazing to believe you are being shown one of his still images, only to suddenly notice that the ant-sized truck in the upper-right is actually moving, turning a corner in an immense parking lot. Not only is the visual effect of the film fantastic, but the images alone create a strong political statement about the need for the radical socio-economic change that must accompany any biophysical changes or limits created in the name of environmentalism if we are to have a chance at achieving a sustainable future.
Fear not, the movie is not really a call to action; sitting in the theatre for one hour, twenty minutes will not leave you feeling beaten and persecuted for your SUV lifestyle. I do think his work is powerful and important and the movie certainly makes that clear but it is not overtly political. This is a film worth watching from many perspectives: aesthetic, intellectual, news worthy, and emotional. Also, for those of you in Vancouver, Burtynsky is currently showing at the Presentation House Gallery in North Vancouver until November 5th. It is a small show (small gallery) but a great opportunity to see some of his works in large format.