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China.
The Next Industrial Revolution.

Photographs by Edward Burtynsky.
Steidl, Gottingen, 2006. 180 pp., 80 color illustrations, 15x12".
Now in its second printing!

Burtynsky’s earlier book, Manufactured Landscapes (2003), put process before place. His images of shipbreaking, quarries and monumental piles of discarded objects reflected an almost abstract fascination with the sources and aftereffects of the modern material world. One could imagine the photographer casting about for the grandest geometries and most telling traces of consumer appetite that could be found. All signs seem to have been pointing to China. In China—a 3.7-million-square-mile manufacturing landscape— Burtynsky has found a single locale that encapsulates his entire oeuvre and mission. Fittingly, in a nation with 1.3 billion inhabitants, it is the humans themselves that figure prominently in these photographs. Whether tiny specks on the rubble piles of relocated Yangtze River villages, or rank-and-filed into the deep Gursky-(or Saul Steinberg)-esque spaces of food processing plants, the Chinese are cast as the countless mechanical parts of this industrial behemoth of a nation. All the catastrophes of human will, all the efficiencies of scale taken to their logical, if horrifying, extreme are apparent in these images. It is particularly apt that we seldom see a complete, finished product—we either see the crowd of workers assembling the thing or we are shown used parts of the thing, multiplied by millions, on the trash heap. The footwear, the new housing and the hulking frame of a new container ship will all rise, be of use and fall back to earth. This cycle, ultimately, is the destiny of all things, including consumers. Burtynsky’s China epic inspires outrage, awe and humility; he is, after all, showing us ourselves. GEORGE SLADE
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