A new way of thinking

“It’s not simply right or wrong, it’s a whole new way of thinking”- Edward Burtynsky

This quote stood out to me the most when watching Jennifer Baichwal’s film, Manufactured Landscapes. Burtynsky’s photographs presented visual evidence of the remains and waste of our consumer culture which have become a consuming and prominent landscape itself. Like Baichwal discussed after the film viewing, China is not targeted and critiqued despite it being the prominently featured place. Instead, China is considered part of the larger global machine. This can be compared to the copmosition of Burynsky’s photographs, which focus on the industrial landscape and large-scale production. Humans are a minor yet important feature of that landscape as small, undistinguishable, and relatively removed from a specific culture and place.

However, the effect of this environment and industry on humans is an topic that cannot be ignored. I was intensely jarred by the waste and desolate conditions that these people live and work in. My jaw was dropped and my eyes were wide with disbelief for the majority of the film. Burtynsky and Baichwal effectively present people as within a larger societal structure and bound to the desolate environment, all in the name of progress and modernity.

The presentation and unveiling of these invisible aspects of our societal functioning made me rethink my own position in the machine of production and consumption. What is my role as an individual within that machine? My life is unburdened by my daily material excess, but what about the people whose life is defined by it? Not necessarily by their own material excess, but the excess and waste of others.

Burtynsky is able to capture the beauty and order within a polluted and desolate environment. But we cannot ignore the larger implications of exposing this hidden landscape. Bringing the dirty underbelly of the industrial world into our awareness creates a “new way of thinking” where questions of values, ethics, the environment, and drawbacks of progress cannot be ignored. Burtynsky is more political than he thinks.


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