Edward Burtynsky

Another oldy here. Edward Burtynsky is a Canadian photographer whose works center around industry and how they change the landscape. He manages to show you the beautiful side of industrial pollution and construction, yes there really is a beautiful side to it. It’s like a guilty pleasure, you know everything in the picture is disgusting and terrible and worse you’re part of the cause, yet you can’t help but be awed by it’s beauty. Burtynsky’s works cover Canada’s nickel mines in Sudbury Ontario to China’s massive construction of the Three Gorges Dam, and everything in between. Burtynsky offers no commentary with the images, he lets the viewer decide what to think, though one can suspect he’s got a bias towards one side of the spectrum as he’s on the board of directors at Worldchanging.com.

Nickel Tailings No. 34, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada 1996

I recommend picking up a film entitled “Manufactured Landscapes“. Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky visit China, Bangladesh, The United States and Canada displaying both video and photos of the industrial landscapes from each. Construction of The Three Gorges Dam in China, manufacturing in China, ship deconstruction by hand in Bangladesh and mines and quarries in The United States and Canada. There’s not much narration or talking in the film, but it’s for the better as it lets you focus on the images being displayed.

Shipbreaking, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2000 Shipbreaking No. 4, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2000Shipbreaking, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2000

The scenes that stuck most with me from the film are those of the ship deconstruction in Bangladesh. I think they’re the eeriest scenes of all in the film. What apparently happens is when a ship is decommissioned, at high tide they ram the ship onto land at full speed and leave it there. People then pull them apart hand by hand and sell the scrap metal. What I find so eerie is seeing these ships beached and seeing nothing at all on the horizon but other beached ships or pieces, it seems like such a dystopia.

Three Gorges Dam Project, Feng Jie #5, Yangtze River, China 2002

In the photo above, it looks like a war torn city where the buildings have all been reduced to rubble. However that’s not how it happened. This is part of the Three Gorges Dam project in China, the people who used to live here disassembled their city by hand, brick by brick. In fact I think Burtynsky said in the TED talk below that they were even paid per brick. Now that the dam is finished and the reservoir is full, this is all under water, along with a few other cities and even some very old temples. I can’t imagine what that would have been like, to be told to move out, take apart your own home, and have your history submerged in water. I’m sure they were told it was for the good of their country etc… but I don’t think that would have helped if it were my home and my past.

Manufacturing #18, Cankun Factory, Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, 2005

The Three Gorges Dam that displaced so many people will be used to power facilities such as this. I believe this is a factory that makes coffee makers and irons and has 21,000 employees. By the looks of things they have all 21,000 outside for this picture.

Lastly I’ll include the TED Talk Burtynsky did on all of these pictures and places. It’s a longer talk at 34 and a half minutes but it’s quite an amazing talk, just to hear the details about each photo.


All photographs are by Edward Burtynsky.


  1. Joe says:

    In addition to the TED talk, I would suggest including a link to Edward Burtynsky’s presentation to the Long Now Foundation. At nearly 2 hours long, it is in more detail and breadth than the TED talk.

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