Exploring the Residual Landscape

A few months ago, Grist published an essay by Bill McKibben that argued for artistic work on climate change as the way to bring the concept into the larger public consciousness (I responded to it here). sustainablog reader Paco Nathan (who’s becoming a great spotter) pointed me to Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, who’s using his work to document the intersections of industry and nature, and the ugliness that often results. In his “Artist Statement” on his website, Burtynsky claims

Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible 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.

These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire – a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.

Paco pointed me specifically to the “Breaking Ground” section of Burtynsky’s site, and there are some powerful images here of environmental degradation that resulted from mining. I also liked the section on “Oil” and “Urban Mining.”

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