Monday, March 17, 2008

Manufactured Landscapes... not so good?

I must admit that I've resisted watching Manufactured Landscapes about Edward Burtynsky, even though both the local library and the local video store (are they still called that?) have it.

But reading Timothy Archibald's recent critique of it, I may finally have to take a look (although in my head I will probably be comparing it to two "documentary" films I watched recently the brilliant My Architect [actually, re-watched it as it was on TV] and the quirky, mildly annoying but illuminating William Eggleston in the Real World.)

Here are a few of Archibald's somewhat restrained comments:

"Friday night I rented this documentary and watched it at home. My wife loved it, felt it had an important message about man's impact on the environment, and was really taken by EB's photographs. I felt differently: if I ever wanted to make photography seem boring to a bunch of students, to discourage them from getting into the field, this is the film I would show them.

The DVD seemed like a promotional handout that would be given to collectors interested in purchasing E.B.'s work. In the same way that people who purchase a Toyota Prius now feel like they've done some good, this film seemed to try to encourage buyers that E.B. really cares, that this work is important, that the planet will be saved. we explore the DVD extras, Al Gore is chiming in on one of the segments. WTF??? His inclusion on this film was so expected, so calculated, any thinking viewer saw it coming....

...So...why do I hate on this film? Is it because E.B. is so popular and successful? Maybe. But I think there is this feeling of liberation that comes when you see a person so deeply invested in their art, instilling their photographs with all the weirdness they have in themselves, and just being honest about it all and mixing it all up together. E.B. didn't have that...he seemed so detached, like he could have been doing any number of things successfully for a living but just happened to choose photography. Well...what's the problem with that?

I think it just comes down to a revelation about my personal taste. I like looking at weird photographs done by unusual people. Is that O.K. to admit?"

And I'll finish, with an image not by Burtynsky, of one of Louis Khan's incredible buildings (see My Architect above)

(Photo by "The Nose" via Wikipedia)


haibo said...

I like your foto style!

My Cave -- SEROs & Trade

Tom White said...

I too am a little perturbed at Burtynsky's apparant lack of passion and his reluctance to openly condemn the practices he is photographing. Perhaps the politics would interfere with his print sales. I don't know. Maybe he does really care but keeps his emotions in check. His manner certainly helped him persuade the Chinese to let him photograph those coal fields. Regardless, I thought the documentary was a telling look at some of those manufacturing processes we all know about but rarely get to see - I'm thinking of the girl assembling switches at lightening speed and the village 'recycling' centres. Burtynsky himself actually seems incidental in this documentary. I left feeling like it wasn't really about him or his practices at all. As a documentary about a photographer it fails, as a documentary about manufactured landscapes I think it hits the spot.

Edward Richards said...

Given that most of the industrial prints are exactly what you would see in any business magazine or annual report in years past, I assume that the art angle has nothing do with the pictures, but is all about the irony of using the same images as anti-corporate art. Sort of like Spinal Tap for photography. I do not care for his industrial images, but I do not think it hurts photography to send up the rich folks who can buy this and hang it in their living room.

Same phenomena as Bernstein entertaining the Black Panthers, as described by Tom Wolfe in Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.

Luis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luis said...

It would be nice to think it's a send-up of his clientele, but I doubt it.

Burtynsky shows a cold view of his subjects.

Robert Frank has also been said (as in the current Vanity Fair article) to have a "bowling-ball cold" vision, but his was an insightful, analytical, compassionate & prophetic vision.

Burtynsky's pseudo-neutral stance is unbelievable and boring. I keep wondering how he kept from napping under the dark cloth.

In spite of the "Eagle's Lair" omnipotent viewpoint, which Gursky, Sugimoto, Vitali and many others have made into an overworked contemporary cliche', EB's pictures lack the connectivity of a good illustration, or the strength of numeric graphic pattern.

The most positive thing I can possibly imagine (or confabulate?) his pictures doing is that they function as metaphors for _our_ emotional distance from the subjects he depicts. A negative moral space.

--- Luis

Davin Risk said...

I think that "Manufactured Landscapes" is quite intentionally as Tom white suggests, "a documentary about manufactured landscapes" and not about Ed Burtynsky or his process. Whether it's better or worse because of that can be debated. It's quite different from Jennifer Bachwal's film "The True Meaning of Pictures" which was more specific in showing Shelby Lee Adams' process and intent in his Appalachia work. But Shelby Lee Adams and Ed Burtynsky are also very different photographers.

I appreciated "Manufactured Landscapes" and I also appreciate Burtynsky's work even though I have similar problems with how non-vocal he is concerning the environmental and social issues that sit at the heart of his images. But I also think it's valid that he is making art that has aesthetic decisions that run alongside the social concerns.

I thought "My Architect" was terrific but really just pushed myself through "William Eggleston in the Real World" which I found to be kind of empty and a bit sloppy. I'm sure he found the whole thing a bit amusing.

Joe Reifer said...

Why not watch it? And don't let T.A.'s review color your experience of the movie too much.



Anonymous said...

Burtynsky seems to be a honest man but I can't help seeing him as the Mondavi of photography.

Anonymous said...

EB's photos don't show the world but a Westerner looking at the world though his Westerner's glasses.
Nothing wrong in that, except that this work is often regarded as a serious document, which it isn't really.
It is just big and thick and questions very little (we all know the world is collapsing. So why not add a dimension to that knowledge?).