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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