kottke.org posts about Edward Burtynsky
Photographer Edward Burtynsky's latest project is called Water.
While trying to accommodate the growing needs of an expanding, and very thirsty civilization, we are reshaping the Earth in colossal ways. In this new and powerful role over the planet, we are also capable of engineering our own demise. We have to learn to think more long-term about the consequences of what we are doing, while we are doing it. My hope is that these pictures will stimulate a process of thinking about something essential to our survival; something we often take for granted -- until it's gone.
Water is on display this month in NYC at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery and Howard Greenberg Gallery and in London at Flowers Gallery. There is also a book and an upcoming feature-length film:
In an interview with Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh, photographer Edward Burtynsky talks about his use of film and drones, his current big project photographing water, and the challenges of finding ways to photograph the ubiquitous.
I'd say, actually, that I've been careful not to frame the work in an activist or political kind of way. That would be too restrictive in terms of how the work can be used in society and how it can be interpreted. I see the work as being a bit like a Rorschach test. If you see an oil field and you see industrial heroism, then perhaps you're some kind of entrepreneur in the oil business and you're thinking, "That's great! That's money being made there!" But, if you're somebody from Greenpeace or whatever, you're going to see it very differently. Humans can really reveal themselves through what they choose to see as the most important or meaningful detail in an image.
Burtynsky is a favorite around these parts.
In order to create art for the 10,000-year Clock chamber, Edward Burtynsky has been investigating how to make photographic prints that last a long time.
Burtynsky went on a quest for a technical solution. He thought that automobile paint, which holds up to harsh sunlight, might work if it could be run through an inkjet printer, but that didn't work out. Then he came across a process first discovered in 1855, called "carbon transfer print." It uses magenta, cyan, and yellow inks made of ground stone-the magenta stone can only be found in one mine in Germany-and the black ink is carbon.
On the stage Burtynsky showed a large carbon transfer print of one of his ultra-high resolution photographs. The color and detail were perfect. Accelerated studies show that the print could hang in someone's living room for 500 years and show no loss of quality. Kept in the Clock's mountain in archival conditions it would remain unchanged for 10,000 years.
Manufactured Landscapes opens with an eight-minute tracking shot of a gigantic factory in China, the camera moving past row after row of workers assembling widgets until you feel like the factory floor circumnavigates the globe. The point of the shot, as with Edward Burtynsky's photography, is to encourage the viewer to do some rudimentary mathematics about the scale of industry in the world:
eight minutes to move across one factory + look at all those employees + how many factories like this are there in China? = wow, that's a lot of widgets
While it's unfair to say that the movie goes downhill from there, the tracking shot packs such a punch that the rest of the film seemed lacking in comparison. It was the only shot in the film that really felt like the cinematic equivalent of Burtynsky's photography...a long photograph, if you will.
The oil sands of Alberta have created an oil boom in the Canadian province.
And how much oil is there? Estimates bounced around for years until 1999, when Alberta got serious about determining its potential. Based on data from 56,000 wells and 6,000 core samples, the Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) came up with an astonishing figure: The amount of oil that could be recovered with existing technology totalled 175 billion barrels, enough to cover U.S. consumption for more than 50 years. With the new math, Canada slipped quietly into second place behind Saudi Arabia's 265 billion barrels in oil reserves, followed by Iran and Iraq.
Edward Burtynsky took some photos of the oil sands to accompany the piece. (thx, marshall)
Update: VBS.tv did a report on the oil sands as part of the Toxic Series. Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about the oil sands for the New Yorker late last year; unfortunately only an abstract of the article is available online. (thx, meg, ben, sanj, and greg)
Manufactured Landscapes is a documentary about Edward Burtynsky and the photos that he's taken in China of the Three Gorges Dam, factories, and other vast industrial projects. Trailer is here and it's available on DVD at Amazon. (thx, scott)
Update: Manufactured Landscapes is playing in NYC at Film Forum starting tonight through July 3.
Running the Numbers, a great new series of photography from Chris Jordan, is kind of a combination of Chuck Close and Edward Burtynsky, with a bit of Stamen thrown in for good measure. (via conscientious)
Photos of the Bangladesh shipbreaking yards by Brendan Corr. Strict environmental laws in the Europe and the US make "recycling" these ships there difficult, so US and European companies outsource the salvage to Bangladesh, where laws are looser. Compare with Edward Burtynsky's photos of the same. (thx, malatron)
Update: Article from The Atlantic about shipbreaking (thx, john) and a soon-to-be released book called Breaking Ships (thx, john #2).
I can't remember where I first ran across Edward Burtynsky's photography, but I've been developing into a full-fledged fan of work over the past few months. From a Washington Post article on Burtynsky:
Burtynsky calls his images "a second look at the scale of what we call progress," and hopes that at minimum, the images acquaint viewers with the ramifications -- he avoids the word price -- of our lifestyle. But what if viewers just see, you know, some dudes and a ship?
"Another photographer might focus on the loss of life or pollution," acknowledges Kennel of the National Gallery. "He uses beauty as a way to draw attention to something. It's a very particular strategy."
The Brooklyn Museum of Art is displaying an exhibition of Burtynsky's photos until January 15. Well worth the effort to try and check it out. The scale of modernity, particularly in his recent photos of China, is astounding. In Three Gorges Dam Project, Dam #4, this huge dam seems to stretch on forever and you don't know whether to goggle in wonder or shrink in horror from looking at it.
The Burtynsky exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art sounds good. I hope to get over there before it closes on January 15. Here's his site with lots of photographs. "He often will shoot an image on three or four different brands of film, then print each image on three or four different brands of paper...then chooses the combination that produces the richest and most vivid look."