Monday, November 24, 2008

Edward Burtynsky and Urban Landscapes

I stumbled upon an interesting blog post the other day at The Vigorous North about Edward Burtynsky and his photography of urban landscapes. Burtynsky describes the focus of his work as "nature transformed through industry." Christian McNeil, of the Vigorous North, further lauds him as "an Ansel Adams for 21st-century environmentalism," in part because of his "stunning, large-format photographs that are beautiful and can induce a sense of vertigo from their epic scale."

And exactly what is Burtynsky photographing in such breathtaking detail? Slices of the very scenes that make environmentalists wince: quarries, factories, mines, dumps, and urban sprawl. Burtynsky's work is so compelling -- often entwining scenes so beautiful and so tragic -- that it was made into a documentary entitled Manufactured Landscapes by Jennifer Baichwal.

Years ago, as part of my job investigating potential hazardous waste sites, I surveyed and photographed abandoned urban industrial areas. My natural default is to think of these places as hopelessly damaged or degraded from their once pristine state. Burtynsky's work and McNeil's comments showed me another way to view this part of life. Burtynsky's photography is vibrant and exciting. I find his pictures fascinating because what he sees through his photographer's lens is so different than what I saw through mine.

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