• Introduction bring out basic rationale or purpose about your selected object (what else makes you interested in)
The first time I saw Edward Burtynsky’s photography of Cankun Factory in Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, was in the appreciation of arts course last semester. I was totally shocked by the large-scale factory manufacturing scene, the ingenious ways of repetition, arrangement of figures and color impressed me a lot. The inner voice of my heart told me that the photograph hidden behind a great meaning or value that worth understanding. For me, it seems like as a function to reflect pools of our times, also to explore the goodness and beauty of mankind in the most indifferent place.
After that, I watched Edward Burtynsky’s Manufactured Landscape, which is an extraordinary, insightful and touching documentary to show us the world factory in developing countries like China, Bangladesh. While I can relate to the implications made in Edward’s documentary or photographs, my experience and understanding of the 90-minute journey and other masterpieces are much more intense and complex. Because in a way, people describe his works as “stunning” or “beautiful,” which raises all kinds of questions about ethics and aesthetics without trying to easily answer them. So this essay is trying to analyze the photography works through the lens of Edward Burtynsky, and coupled with some underline meaning, technical knowledge from a logical, critical perspective.
• Contents descriptions of your choice (visual features, concept/ idea, implementation of design, message transmitted etc)
Above all is the brief introduction of Edward Burtynsky. Edward is one of the most emblematic artists, photographers in Canada, who has a most formally reputation for taking seemingly benign large format industrial landscapes and transforming them into provocative forces of consciousness. He gives a contemporary view of the ‘great ages of man’ from things of that nature like stone, to manufactured factory or substance, to make these ideas known to the audience. As Edward stated that, “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.”
As for Edward Burtynsky’s documentary and photography, I think he is leaving the evidences for the common experience between human beings and nature. As a kind of contemporary documentary, Edward shoot a great number of large format manufactured industrial landscapes photography. Through the lens of him, we see the fluvial rivers, dump hills and desolate places. For example, the Manufactured Landscape documentary follows Edward to China as he travels the country photographing the evidence and effects of that country’s massive industrial revolution. It shows a coal mine base in Tianjin, ship breaking factories in Bangladesh, marble mining in Italy…but what impressed me most was the construction and demolition process of the three Gorges Dam in Sichuan, which has uprooted more than one million people and flooded 13 cities, 140 towns and 1350 villages since the beginning of its construction in 1994. “Building mega dams in the 21st century has gathered much global criticism and is central to a growing debate. To make room for the Three Gorges Dam, approximately 1.13 million people must be relocated and their livelihoods challenged. It is the largest peacetime evacuation in history. Fertile agricultural lands and important cultural/historic sites will be found submerged under a vast reservoir.”
Apart from the issues of human beings and nature, humanism is the other important point when we appreciate Edward Burtynsky’s works. For instance, we see both rich families and poor alleys in Shanghai, and innumerable workers, production lines jump into the pictures. For instance, factories in China that produces most of the world’s supply of clothes irons or sports shoes, which are one kilometer in length and employ over 23,000 workers, the hard labors working on the production lines like rows of ants, arrange an extraordinary regular and orderly picture, gave us a strong visual impact. From these images of large manufacturing factories, we saw an indescribable subtle relationship between people and goods, which indicates that industrial landscape is stored in China, and even in the world in a such daily way, modernization has constructed industrial wonders and daily life, also materialized the scenery and subverted nature. In the province of Guangdong, one can drive for hours along numerous highways that reveal a virtually unbroken landscape of factories and workers’ dormitories. These new ‘manufacturing landscapes’ in the southern and eastern parts of China produce more and more of the world’s goods and have become the habitat for a diverse group of companies and millions of busy workers.
So in terms of the message transmitted, through the lens of the high-angle, aerial photograph, Edward Burtynsky tries to use the shocking scenes to remind people of the impact on the earth, to make people realize that the world is suffering from the pain behind human desire. From his water, salt pans, oil and mines theme photography, Edward Burtynsky ‘s photography is inclined to industrialization, we can say it’s a reflection on human beings’ behaviors, on the pollution of the industrial environment and the artificial scenery. In some ways, it also connects to the moral decay of human beings and the degeneration of culture, which describe the secret relationship between man and material space. Apart from that, Edward also likes to explore the goodness and beauty of human beings in the seemingly indifferent places, we can conclude that from his works of china factory.
• Cultural References/ Theories comment your choice according to photographic, cultural studies, art and design theories (assess whether Photography is social or for public good etc.
About the photographic technique, the most obvious features that contribute to his works is the large size. Edward Burtynsky’s trip through landscapes that have been altered by large-scale human activity, captured with Super 16 mm film. Most of them are taken with a “large format field camera on large 4×5-inches sheet film” and Edward developed them into high-resolution, large-dimension prints with approximately 50×60 inches size, (ranging from 18 X 22 inches to 60 X 80 inches), which allowing the viewer to see every small details and put ourselves into the actual photograph and experience it on our own.
In the large format photography, we can see Edward use special photographic techniques to compile the whole scenes and details together. When catching the scene of the great deterrent factory scene, Edward also captures the subtleties at the same time. According to the audiences who have appreciated in person, those large-scale photography creates a dazzling visual platform that allows viewers to observe all the details between the close view and distant view, include all the details from near at hand to end of the space.
Apropos of the art and design showed from Edward Burtynsky’s photography, we have to mention the great sense of repetition, which I think is one of the main themes across his whole body of works. In other words, Edward’s works are very interesting, refreshing, which give a real sense of perspective and quantity and they contain some sense of pattern throughout.
Although most have praised the film, there has been some negative reception. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune praised the opening shot, but said “the rest of director Baichwal’s picture feels constrained and rather dutiful, no matter how passionate these people are about what they’re observing.” And some people may argue that the purposes of the director and cameramen are to expose the industrial ugliness in developing countries, criticizing the human being’s behaviors of ignoring the natural harmony. I hold the opinion that compared with the landscape created by nature, the landscape created by human beings permeates the power of the sense of tragedy, which made the documentary and photographs of Edward Burtynsky full of vitality. In other words, I can see the strength and hope behind these iron and steel, and people. Perhaps they are unattractive or ugly, but this is like a living. Edward’s works has made these images “reshape”, they became more vivid and even gorgeous. According to Svala Ragnars, a documentary landscape photographer from Iceland, in terms of aesthetics and ideas, what influenced her most was the works from Edward Burtynsky. For the reasons that his images often explore the ugly, boring industrial structures or ruined landscape, and turned them into various outstanding art with unbelievable art. (regardless of the unimpaired industrial hazard)
The appreciation of formal beauty can be a first step toward the aesthetic experience of landscapes thought to be lacking in aesthetic value. Several contemporary artists successfully use the formalist approach to the appreciation of everyday life to transform the unsightly, the squalid and the ugly into things of beauty. For example, Edward Burtynsky demonstrates the remarkable aesthetic experiences found in the combinations of lines, shapes, and colors of the devastated aftermaths of industry, manufacturing and resource extraction.