Q & A with Ed Burtynsky

Finally, the film Manufactured Landscapes was show in London and the Canadian artist and film director Ed Burtynsky answered questions after the screening. A documentary about landscapes that have been transformed by man, particularly by extraction industries such as coal and strip mining and iron ore, it focuses on China with its massive dams and huge factories employing thousands of people.

Burtynsky, along with the director Jennifer Baichwall, talked about their travels there. In some locations the Chinese were reluctant to let him shoot or talk to the people. The film is not available publicly there, although it is being pirated all over, but his photography book is for sale. Many in the audience were annoyed when Burtynsky said that he "is not overly political so that people will be drawn to make their own decisions". He said that he walked a "razor walk" because if he "was too much on the side of human rights and the environmental issues his work would become less open and he gets painted into a corner". He tells CEO's that he can't prevent a dialogue from going on. But he does perform political actions, for example with the proceeds from some sales, he sent 2,000 safety goggles to a factory along with a translated letter saying that the workers should use them or else they would go blind and insisting that the employer maintain them.

Burtynsky said that his photos and the film are a lament for places lost. The loss is so complete in China that one can drive for four hours there and see no birds or trees because the environment is so stressed. The sky is always hazy, never blue because of the coal burning. He called himself a "subliminal environmentalist" because he is aware of the tension between shooting for beauty and being an undercover reporter. The consequence of urban existence is horror and he is going to the source of it through his photos so that we can comprehend it. :: Manufactured Landscapes