Landscape photography for our time

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Nickel Tailings No. 34, Sudbury, Ontario 1996

Photograph by Edward Burtynsky

As a Canadian, photographer Edward Burtynsky doesn’t have to go far to see the impact of industrialization on the natural landscape. The oil sands of Alberta and the nickel mines of Ontario have each left devastating scars. But Burtynsky has devoted his career to documenting the impact of our modern lifestyles around the planet, from California to China to Bangladesh.

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Oxford Tire Pile #8, Westley, California, USA, 1999

Photograph by Edward Burtynsky

Last night I rented a documentary on Burtynsky’s work, titled “Manufactured Landscapes.” As you might expect with a photographer, the film is sparse on words and heavy on imagery. It shows just how much of our landscape is being taken over for the extraction of minerals and oil, or for the mass production of everday things like hand irons, or is befouled by the waste our consumption leaves behind: oil slicks, used tires, outdated computers, and scrapped tankers.

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Shipbreaking No. 9a, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2000

Photograph by Edward Burtynsky

Burtynsky was awarded the 2005 TED (Technology Entertainment Design) Prize, which each year grants three winners $100,000 each, plus a wish (other winners include President Clinton, Bono, Dave Eggers and Karen Armstrong). Burtynsky made three wishes: to build a website that will help kids think about going green… to begin work on an Imax film (still in the development phase)… and to encourage “a massive and productive worldwide conversation about sustainable living.” The result of that last wish can be found here.

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If you’d like to check out some more beautiful photography aimed at changing the world, check out this TED talk by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and this look at the work of Chris Jordan.

  • Amazing photos illustrating how devastating impact we have on the environment. Where has the last picture been taken?

  • I’ve been in Chittagong in 2005 and almost nothing changed in this place. It still looked kinda scary.