Edward Burtynsky’s impressive China photographs – Manufactured Landscapes

Edward Burtynsky - Manufacturing #17, Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Manufacturing #17, Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, China, 2005

Edward Burtynsky in China

For Edward Burtynsky, photography is much more than immortalizing a scene; while his focus is on taking photos, he is keen on sharing his point of view with the rest of the world. One of the most outstanding aspects of his works is his ability to connect to the real world.

Edward Burtynsky - Cankun Factory, Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Cankun Factory, Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, China, 2005

China, for instance, is a massive country, comprised of 3.7-million-square-miles of manufacturing landscape and that means people are busy all the time. What is a picture of China without a hint of humanity? The many photos Burtynsky has taken of China appear to be carefully thought out; each one makes use of a location that not only captures what is happening on a large scale but also the people who make it happen.

Edward Burtynsky - Manufacturing #2, Shift Change, Yuyuan Shoe Factory, Gaobu Town, Guangdong Province, China, 2004
Edward Burtynsky – Manufacturing #2, Shift Change, Yuyuan Shoe Factory, Gaobu Town, Guangdong Province, China, 2004

As an artist, his role is to bring out the best of what he chooses to put on film; this he has done so well in this particular country. Through the eyes of Burtynsky, the Chinese people are part of the greater mechanical system that keeps the country’s economy afloat. There is no doubt that there is so much negativity to write home for that, but his work is about impressions of the world.

Edward Burtynsky - Manufacturing #6A and 6B, Hongqingting Shoe Factory, Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, 2004
Edward Burtynsky – Manufacturing #6A and 6B, Hongqingting Shoe Factory, Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, 2004

Human nature is such that the bad outdoes the good and this is replicated even in photography. While China is renowned for its production of any kind of goods and a booming housing sector to boost the ever-growing population, all this eventually comes to an end in a cycle of destiny.

Edward Burtynsky - Manufacturing #6A, Hongqingting Shoe Factory, Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, 2004 (detail of original diptych)
Edward Burtynsky – Manufacturing #6A, Hongqingting Shoe Factory, Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, China (detail of original diptych), 2004

Manufactured Landscapes

Manufactured Landscapes is a documentary film created in 2006 about the industrial landscape photography of Edward Burtynsky. It was directed by a renowned Canadian documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and distributed by the film distribution company Zeitgeist Films.

Edward Burtynsky - Manufacturing #10A and 10B, Cankun Factory, Xiamen City, 2005 (detail of original diptych)
Edward Burtynsky – Manufacturing #10A and 10B, Cankun Factory, Xiamen City, China (detail of original diptych), 2005

The documentary series was the first retrospective work of the internationally renowned photographer and brought together over 60 artworks by Burtynsky from both public and private collections.

Edward Burtynsky - Manufacturing #10B, Cankun Factory, Xiamen City, 2005 (detail of original diptych)
Edward Burtynsky – Manufacturing #10B, Cankun Factory, Xiamen City, China (detail of original diptych), 2005

The photographer explores the relationship between land and technology, which led him to create these images of unorthodox beauty. The subjects of the photos include rail-cutting, mining, oil refining, and quarrying, which allowed Burtynsky to create an outstanding piece of art from civilization’s debris and materials.

Edward Burtynsky - Manufacturing #11, Youngor Textiles, Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Manufacturing #11, Youngor Textiles, Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China, 2005

The documentary follows him through China as he documents the proof of the country’s colossal industrial revolution. With stunning sequences Burtynsky and his crew also extend the narrative of his photographs, allowing the audience to meditate upon the impact on the planet as well as witness both the hotbeds of industrial exertion and the dumping grounds of its waste.

Edward Burtynsky - Manufactured Landscapes
Edward Burtynsky – Manufacturing #16, Bird Mobile, Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China, 2005

Impact of Manufactured Landscapes

The documentary reveals Burtynsky’s process of creating stunningly beautiful images while also exploring the lives lived within the ruins. The massive heap of disposable consumer products shipped to remote locations in Asia is being prodded by peasant children and women trying to find precious metals.

This film begins with an outstanding tracking shot via a virtually infinite Chinese factory, continuing for eight minutes. The camera travels at a slower pace, creating a sublime viewing experience that is both immense and oddly claustrophobic. During the entire shot, the camera travels across the floor just like one’s eye probes the canvas of a photograph, reminiscing the experience of standing in a gallery space and viewing a photo in awe.

The voice of Burtynsky does not appear until almost halfway through the shot when he expresses the desire to see nature. Nature is transformed all around us and anyone who wants to access pristine places must have huge finances because industries and waste disposal are located out of the vicinity.

Burtynsky and Baichwal, through this documentary, reveal the costs of globalization in the separation of production from consumption. Since 2006, when the film was created, the problem has multiplied several folds, yet the film does not reveal the whole story regarding the available data. For instance, the United States requires up to 17 million barrels of oil to manufacture the plastic used in the bottled water industry.

The role of nature & industry

Looking at the pictures he takes, one can easily get into his mind frame and view humanity from a point of humility, awe and outrage. Some of these might be hard to acknowledge, but it is the reality of what life is that keeps people hooked to what Burtynsky does.

On the one hand, it is the natural aspect of the world that cannot be changed, which is nature and on the other is what people make to simplify their lives. A photographer who finds this link finds a balance that they project beyond the lens. There is an unseen struggle between seduction and fear, attraction and repulsion that he manages to capture in his works.

Video: Edward Burtynsky’s Manufactured Landscapes TED Talk

35 min 10 sec

Conclusion

Everybody is aware that China is a superpower, but not many people can visualize what that means. As the world keeps changing to accommodate the millions born every year, it is expected that natural resources will be depleted over time.

Burtynsky artfully presents and questions the social and ecological impact of mass production and mass consumption in which we all take part.

Through its ambiguous form blending two film genres, an artist image and social documentary, Manufactured Landscapes forces the audience to look beyond the aesthetic value of the manufactured landscapes across the world.

The documentary also questions the role of both Burtynsky and Baichwal in exposing sensitive issues like the hidden costs of globalization. The two thus personify the long-lasting struggle in photography between two different imperatives – beautification and truth-telling.

It might not be possible to tell why Burtynsky chose China as his canvas, but this modern-day superpower is gearing up for an industrial tsunami to meet everyone’s needs. This is the nature of work that has earned him international recognition and acclaim.

Photos

Three Gorges Dam Project

Edward Burtynsky - Dam #4, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China 2002
Edward Burtynsky – Dam #4, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky - Dam #6, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Dam #6, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky - Feng Jie #3 & 4, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, 2002
Edward Burtynsky – Feng Jie #3 & 4, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky - Feng Jie #3, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, 2002 (detail of original diptych)
Edward Burtynsky – Feng Jie #3, Yangtze River, China, 2002 (detail of original diptych)
Edward Burtynsky - Feng Jie #4, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, 2002 (detail of original diptych)
Edward Burtynsky – Feng Jie #4, Yangtze River, China, 2002 (detail of original diptych)
Edward Burtynsky - Feng Jie #5, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky – Feng Jie #5, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky - Wan Zhou #2, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky – Wan Zhou #2, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky - Wan Zhou #4, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky – Wan Zhou #4, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky - Wushan #3, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky – Wushan #3, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China, 2002
Edward Burtynsky - Xiaolangdi Dam #1, Yellow River, Henan Province, China
Edward Burtynsky – Xiaolangdi Dam #1, Yellow River, Henan Province, China

Old Factories

Edward Burtynsky - Old Factories #1, Fushun Aluminum Smelter, Fushun City, Liaoning Province, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Old Factories #1, Fushun Aluminum Smelter, Fushun City, Liaoning Province, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky - Old Factories #4, Shenyang Heavy Machinery Group, Tiexi District, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Old Factories #4, Shenyang Heavy Machinery Group, Tiexi District, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky - Old Factories #5, Shenyang Heavy Machinery Group, Tiexi District, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Old Factories #5, Shenyang Heavy Machinery Group, Tiexi District, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky - Old Factories #6, Shenyang Heavy Machinery Group, Tiexi District, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Old Factories #6, Shenyang Heavy Machinery Group, Tiexi District, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky - Old Factories #9, Fushun Aluminum Smelter, Fushun City, Liaoning Province, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Old Factories #9, Fushun Aluminum Smelter, Fushun City, Liaoning Province, China, 2005

Bao Steel

Edward Burtynsky - Bao Steel #2, Shanghai, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Bao Steel #2, Shanghai, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky - Bao Steel #4, Shanghai, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Bao Steel #4, Shanghai, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky - Bao Steel #5, Shanghai, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Bao Steel #5, Shanghai, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky - Bao Steel #8, Shanghai, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Bao Steel #8, Shanghai, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky - Bao Steel #10, Tianjin, China, 2005
Edward Burtynsky – Bao Steel #10, Tianjin, China, 2005

All images by Edward Burtynsky unless otherwise noted.

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