Monday, January 22, 2007

Edward Burtynsky's visions of a hyper-industrialized world.

"A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false. I believe that these assertions … apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?" - by Harold Pinter

So I’m taking a moment here from the apocalyptic (well sort of!) to look at this recent interview with Canadian artist
Edward Burtynsky. He’s pretty much a household name at this point but if you are by chance unfamiliar you should know that he has been building an incredible body of work over the last 25 years looking at the relationship between humanity and consumer desires as plays out on geologic and maximal scales.

Here is Burtynsky on the quote above:

"Truth is open to a lot of interpretations in the artist's hands. I think, what Pinter is saying is that, as a global citizen you are responsible for asking a question: do I agree with particular politics, do I agree with a direction we are being lead. As a citizen you have to make a decision how you feel about the world, what you think is right. As citizens, it's our responsibility to move out of the domain of creating reflections on humanity into the domain of acting on our beliefs." "As a citizen I do take a pretty strong stand. I do believe that there are serious environmental consequences to what we do and what we don't. There are millions of little things we can do every day. We're making decisions about the kind of cars we drive, how we insulate our houses, how wastefully we use the water and what we do with our old computers. These are real things that make a difference, millions of these decisions done by millions of individuals." - Burtynsky
Christopher Grabowski has some great questions for the artist - here's a few that seem particularly acute for recent postings around the blogosphere.

On why the news media isn't really getting the big story:
"Mainstream news media has a problem with it because they are searching for the breaking story that would sell papers. They're always on the search of headline grabbing material. At the same time, the news media are very top down hierarchal organizations that are not very good at allowing creativity. They are not very good at allowing the people who are on the ground, seeing things first hand, to become a feedback system to back up the organization's pyramid."
On why he decided not to photograph the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:
"I've photographed several natural disasters in the past and have decided that it is to close to spot reporting for me. You're in and out very quickly. The thing I was interested in was the slow burn, not the ka-boom, the things and processes that gradually create the world we live in, the processes that we tend to see as normal, as opposed to a tsunami or a hurricane.
"I focus on a world that we're consciously creating. The Three Gorges dam under construction on the Yangtze River looks like a disaster but it was a conscious decision to tear all these cities apart, to relocate 1.5 million people and to build new homes for them beyond the flood area. It was a conscious, industrial transformation of the landscape.
"I don't think it's been adequately covered. As far as I know, I am the only guy who ever went there with a 4x5 camera. In many places up the river, I was the only professional photographer people said they'd seen."
[my post regarding this very topic: Soth, Polidori and Katrina]

On whether photographs reveal or conceal the truth:
"I constantly face questions concerning truth and distortions. As an image-maker I have degrees of control on how I tell my stories. If there is a piece of plywood somewhere in the corner of my frame that catches the sun and burns a hole in my image, I may consider moving the plywood, or if access is difficult, to remove the reflection in the Photoshop. Now, if I take that same image and paste some people into it and introduce some staged narrative without telling anybody about it, that would create a challenge to the traditional trust in the relationship between the image, the creator of the image and the viewer.
"Having said that, photography can be used in various, non-documentary, forms depending on how the author wants to engage the audience. The meaning can be found in making something up completely, a flight of imagination can sometimes have more to do with truth about poverty than, let's say, a straight picture of a street scene."
On simplistic framing of images – and issues:
"I started my work off saying: look these are the complex issues here; there is a definite disconnect between what we consciously do and what the global reality of what we do is.
"To me, if you build your polemics around the point that all corporations are bad, it lacks the necessary complexity, it is just too narrow and almost a caricature of a view. There are some bad corporations and some good corporations. There are some very bad people who work for the corporations but it is also quite easy for some environmentalists to feel self-righteous, to get up on the soapbox without the full grasp of the complexity of the problem.
"My goal is to allow dialogue, not to draw lines and start throwing things at each other again, because this has not gotten us anywhere all these years. It pleases me if my work does something to arouse consciousness, to increase dialog or to influence people to make real personal changes, which is the only thing that makes a difference, as far as I am concerned."
On whether a still image works differently on our consciousness than a documentary film:
"Absolutely, I do believe that a still image fixes in the consciousness in a whole different way than a documentary film does. With a film we are caught up in following the narrative and we don't really pay attention to the images. The still image does fix into the memory, it locks in, it's easier to recall. It has a role in raising consciousness and it does it differently than a documentary film. One might say that film is more compelling because you're more driven to understand the theme but the film doesn't recall the same way in our minds. What I recall from the Vietnam War is not the video footage; it's Eddie Adams' images that stick in my mind."
On whether artists need to be analytical, like anthropologists:
"People who are engaged in art are engaged in a process of thinking beyond the present moment, looking both forward and backward, reflecting on how the human story plays itself out. In a way, art is a research and development department. It shows us new places we can go in terms of thought; it makes us reflect upon our actions, our ethics; it questions our definitions of good and evil.
"I believe that culture is key to a healthy society. So many people are caught so entirely in the process of working and making a living that society needs somebody to put a mirror up, to open up our consciousness to the things that are out of sight, out of mind."

Full interview at the Tyee

image: Edward Burtynsky

via wood s lot

No comments: