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Tag Archives: Manufactured Landscapes
Manufactured Landscapes is a film by Jennifer Baichwal following photographer Edward Burtynsky as he documents the effects of China’s industrial revolution on the planet. Sites such as the Three Gorges Dam, which is bigger by 50% than any other dam in the world and displaced over a million people, factory floors over a kilometre long, and the breathtaking scale of Shanghai’s urban renewal are the subjects and the work creates a cognitive dissonance between the appreciation of the pictures themselves and disgust at the scale of the disruption to the planet.
Burtynsky has been described as political and an activist but he is neither of these things. He is not a polemical artist in the truest sense of the word, rather he puts these things out into the world so that the viewer might make up his or her own mind. As he put it himself during the Q & A session that followed the screening, the viewer is being invited to consider the possibility that the luxuries we take for granted, produced by the oil age have another side to them, that we are wrecking the planet in merely maintaining a standard of living that we have come to expect. This is a tough message and Burtynsky draws a parallel to the research that suggested a causal link between cigarettes and cancer in the 1960′s – people chose to ignore it because it was easier and more comfortable to pretend it was untrue.
One point Burtynsky made during the Q&A session resonated particularly with me. Many of my peers in the IT industry subscribe to the prevailing neo-liberal, libertarian school of thought on the basis that there is no problem because as was demonstrated by the Information Age, our capacity to dream up newer, faster and better solutions will keep us one jump ahead of the game. This is a dangerous fallacy. As Burtynsky pointed out, the Information Age and the oncoming Biotechnology age depend on the continuation of the preceding Industrial age to provide components. The wreckage continues, illustrated in photographs of computer components piled higher than houses being picked over by peasants for any recyclable metals. all the while, degrading slowly and leaking their poisons into the earth to the extent that on this particular site the water table is contaminated.
The photographs are often breathtakingly gorgeous, even though they describe the toxic effects that mankind has visited upon the planet. I will be visiting his exhibition OIL at the Photographer’s Gallery which is running until July 1st and if you are even slightly interested I suggest you do too!
Thanks to the London Festival of Photography for organising this screening, and thanks too to Edward Burtynsky for taking the time to participate in the Q&A session. It was an excellent and stimulating evening and time very well spent.
Update: 22 June
I visited the OIL exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery yesterday and I really can’t recommend it enough (exhibition and venue both!). Seen as full size prints, these photographs are absolutely outstanding. I may very well go back…