Monday, June 25, 2007

Edward Burtynsky and politics

Jim Johnson over on (Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography has sparked some interesting discussions with a couple of posts (here and here) on Edward Burtynsky:

" environmental degradation of the sort that Burtynsky depicts less lethal, less of a humanly created catastrophe than war or famine or massive forced displacement? Would it be acceptable to simply remain non-committal (and, as I suggest below, that is precisely the stance Burtynsky strikes) about the latter sorts of events? Again, think of Salgado or Nachtwey. How would we judge them if they adopted so non-committal a stance regarding the political and economic implications of their photographs of devastation and mayhem? Why is it easier to let Burtynsky off the hook here (in say his pictures of large dams in China like the one I've lifted above) than would be to allow Salgado or Nachtwey to remain analogously silent regarding, say, their images of corpses of cholera victims in Zairean refugee camps? I simply do not get this...." more at the links above


Anonymous said...

Non-committal? Conflicted, maybe, but I don't think he's non-committal. I think Burtynsky feels that the balance of waste, recycling, consumption, Third World employment make for a complex subject, more complex than is typically presented by the activists on all sides.

A good example in terms of this sort of documentarianism is W. Eugene Smith who was a war photographer but also documented the effects of industrial pollution in the Japanese village of Minamata. Smith always felt the photographer had to have a point of view. Commitment was not optional, it was essential.

gravitas et nugalis said...

Non committal?

Only if you haven't read his Artist Statement in his China book -

For 25 years I created images about the manmade transformations our civilization has imposed upon the nature ... I have become anxiously aware of the consequences our actions are having upon the world ... As a husband and father ... I feel an urgency to make people aware of important things that are at stake ... what we give to the future are the choices we make today ... China is the most recent participant to be seduced by western ideals - the hollow promise of fulfillment and happiness through material gain ... the troublind downside of this is ... the mass consumerism these ideals ignite and the resulting degradation of our environment intrinsic to the process of making things ... [it] should be of concern to all.

Of course, he didn't need to tell me that becuase I see it all in his pictures.

Luis said...

Burtynsky leaves me cold. Maybe it's the imperious aerial eagle's lair POV, or the emotional distance he imposes between the viewer and subject. Returning to the portrait-distance thing, in the case of Evans, he brilliantly used it as a kind of one-way insulation through which his analytical tendrils could safely probe the subject without risking over-exposing his considerable restrained passions. Burtynsky is unable to get through his own insulation, and so am I.

[ I disagree with the notion that China was seduced by Western ideals. More like forced to compete in Western markets for its survival.]

--- Luis