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Manufactured landscape photography

Manufactured landscape photography - For too long landscape photography has been green, now Edward Burtynsky is turning it into something much more industrial.

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Bao Steel 8

Bao Steel #8 by Edward Burtynsky ©

Most landscape photographers would avoid parts of the countryside where quarrying has created a large gaping hole in the beautiful landscape. But photographer Edward Burtynsky heads straight for them. His large scale photographs document and demonstrate how industry is transforming nature and the landscapes around us. His work records and reports, but at the same time is also aesthetic and pleasing to the eye. The array of imagery demonstrates the fine line we walk on when it comes to causing harm to the environment so we can advance as a race.

Born in St Catharines, Ontario, Edward graduated from Ryerson Polytechnical University in Toronto with a B.A in Photographic Arts. He then went on to study at the Niagara College where he qualified with a diploma in graphic art. He soon became well known for finding beauty in the most unlikely of places and his work began to be exhibited around the world.

"I document our urban existence," said Edward. "For me, this is a way in which I can begin to address the landscapes, show some sources of material that we use from day to day. We have disconnected ourselves from these places and I feel photographing them is important."

Industry has been ongoing and growing for the last 250 years and Edward feels documenting the process is vital. His various photographs of ship yards, urban mines, industrial refineries and quarries all demonstrate industrial areas of work and how processes are carried out. His photographs show the dilemma we live with when it comes to industry and the environment. Should we be repulsed at the idea of quarrying into the land or should we embrace it for the technological marvel that it is?

"We want to live well, yet we are also aware that the world is suffering because of this."

On his website, Edward says his images function as a reflecting pool of our times, his work shows the world the technology these industrial places use every day and the shapes and forms created by them, be it a good or bad thing.

Cankun Factory, Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, 2005

Manafacturing #18 by Edward Burtynsky©

"The pristine, nice landscapes have been thoroughly covered but no-one ever considered these so I did."

Almost anything can spark an idea in Edwards head. A small electrical appliance can take Edward on a research path that eventually leads him to thinking about the biggest manufacturers of electrical appliances in the world.

"I look at any activities and then think of the large scale projects like it. This is the root of my research and it opens up windows into the work I do, it allows me to document these large scale industries we have created today."

The large scale manufacturing of the far east lead Edward to China where he was followed by an award winning film maker Jennifer Baichwal. Manufactured Landscapes, is the title of the documentary and it shows what effect China's industrial revolution is having on their environment. Manufactured Landscapes gave Edward the opportunity to extend the content of his work and express his imagery in a whole new way.

"The film maker made the decision to make it and I was the subject for the movie. It wasn't my project but something I really wanted to be involved in. It allowed me to show how much we use these industries."

In a way the film adds meaning and more impact to the pictures Edward has taken. For example, the images of containers in ports are colourful, symmetric and rather nice to look at. But when you see the film that shows the sheer size of the ports and how many containers are actually there you realise how much we need them and how much we rely on this industry.

Three Gorges Dam project

Dam #6 by Edward Burtynsky ©

His photograph of The three Gorges Dam, which is bigger than any other dam in the world is another example of where the film has added depth to his images. The dam's displaced over a million people and even though his pictures show the ruined buildings the film shows how the images were taken and gives them meaning and depth.

Documenting and visiting so many places has left Edward with an almost endless selection of photographs of which he could call his favourite. But out of all of them only two sprung to his mind.

"Out of the latest images I have taken the ones that are most visually interesting are from Australia. But if you are talking about the last 10 years then the most interesting is the beaches in Bangladesh and the ship work that went on there."

Edward captures all of his work in large format, as he says he likes to make pictures rather than just take them. He also places a lot of thought into lighting and subjects: "A lot of presets have to be right before I even pick up my camera," said Edward.

This may seem like a methodical and conscious way of bringing work into the world, but it's a process that works for him. This conscious way of working is also applied to Edwards post production work where he uses Photoshop to retouch and make something less obvious rather than changing the image all together.

Nickel Tailings No 34

Nickel Tailings #34 by Edward Burtynsky©

"I use it as a retouching tool but not for composition. For example, if I have taken a picture and there's a pop can in the bottom corner that is taken the attention away from the main subject then I will use photoshop to make it less present in the feature."

Most of the time Edward uses a 4x5 and a 8x10 Philips but he does also turn to digital photography. Taking hold of his Hasselblad 83 when ever he needs to shoot digitally. However, the digital age is something which he says hasn't been easy for all photographers.

"It's hard for those middle-ground photographers who make a reasonable living from it. They have pressure from costs and competition, some people are even shooting for free. They're going through a tough transition, say your day rate is $250, you shoot all day, get home at night and have to work on your images on the computer for the whole evening and late into the night to get the pictures finished on time, it isn't a whole lot of money for all that work. Also they have to buy their equipment and all that so it doesn't leave much money after that, it's tough."

Edward believes the so called digital age has also opened up the photography field to people who may think they're photographers but really they're not.

"It's brought some people to the field who don't really know what they are doing, a lot of people are posing as photographers who aren't really photographers."

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Since the article mentions Burtynsky's website, I hope the ePhotozine admins won't mind me linking to it to save people having to Google: www.edwardburtynsky.com  .

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