Wednesday, February 18, 2015



Edward Burtynski, born 1955 of Ukrainian heritage in St. Catharines (Ontario, Canada) is well known for his unique style of capturing and contemplating his environment. He studied Photography/Media Studies in Ryerson University and graduated 1982. His works are included in permanent collections of over sixty museums such as Guggenheim Museum in New York, Museum of Modern Art, Reina Sophia Museum in Madrid etc. Photography is his way of communicating his thoughts and concerns he has towards
landscapes modified by mankind. What was his motivation?


Burtynski’s beginning as a photographer was strongly influenced by his immediate surrounding. As a 
Canadian nature accompanied him since his childhood in a particular way; he experienced the untouched nature, a nature being in a transient mode. He perceived the geological time, going on for long time and he asserts that humans experience nature in a different way. This important feature marking his childhood was a reference point for his work. Moreover he is concerned about the way existing natural landscapes are transforming by us into manufactured polluted landscapes, harming the environment in which we live. Burtynski reflects about how to rethink landscape, but how?

On a trip to Pennsylvania 1983, Burtynski lost the track and arrived to a coal-mining town called Frackville. He was blown away by the landscape fully transformed by man. A new created massive amphitheatre like landscape has been created in order to harvest nature’s raw materials. His ambivalence of being fascinated and shocked led him realise how he wants to interact as a photographer. This moment in his life marks the baseline for his work. From there on, his work was clearly dominated by manufactured landscapes and their effects on nature and human.


Before moving on to his working methods and projects, it is important to mention what kind of cameras 
Burtynski uses. His first camera was a Linhof 5x4 inch using it for nearly thirty years. Using a tripod for 
capturing precise and clear pictures, Burtynski created a more face-to-face interaction between observer and landscape. After 2009, he decided to change for a Hasselblad H3D being more adequate for aerial photography. There is a change of how Burtynski nets his ambiance. From a rather more human scale, he changes into a bird’s eye perspective, showing from above the manufactured landscapes.


His life’s work, exploring human and natural circumstances, can be seen as a sort of research. Burtynski ‘looks at industrial landscape as a way defining who we are in our relationship to our planet’. He wants to understand his environment and to act against the uneasy contradiction of being dependent on nature and the concern for the health of the Earth. Furthermore he criticizes the collective appetite and consequences of our behavior. Our world is hypnotized by desire and the world is suffering of our success. Burtynski gets ‚sober‘ when he has to think about our current circumstances. 

Therefore he uses a specific method to his surrounding; his jolie / laide (beautiful/ugly) style can be characterized by means of capturing subjects rich in detail and scale which are selected carefully in order to show our contemporary issues.
His images are metaphors of our modern existence. Burtynski creates through photography in his images a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. The audience should not feel rejected, they should rather experience fear and pleasure at the same time. Outsiders should be able to understand the message without only feeling fear. Burtynski is extremely careful about the way he is transmitting his thoughts and developed his own style. So how did he advanced his methods?

We will have thus a look to selected works. In the 1980’s and 1990’s Burtynski rather concentrated mainly on North America with exception of Italy and Portugal. He outlined his homeland and illustrated the way industrialization manufactured the ’untouched nature’. His early work can be regarded as a documentary of the ever-changing environment. His shoots of ’Ferrous Bushling’ in Hamilton, Ontario dealt with the topic of recycling seen as a redemption to our environmental concerns. He concluded that human activity combined by the idea of sustainability are the solution to our problem. 

In 2000, Burtynski travels to Bangladesh, a country characterized by famine, poverty and pollution. This is his first time to travel to the Third World. He was shocked about the current conditions how people lived in a landscape influenced through our desire to consume. He shooted a ship breaking scene in Chittagong. Locals deconstructed the ships with their bare hands. Burtynski began from there on to capture also the conditions of manufacturers in the Third World being force to manufacture the landscape in order to satisfy our needs. He is more than an usual photographer. He wants to transmit his emotions to the observers by selecting particular positions with the camera.

Another important project was his film ’Manufactured Landscapes’ (2006), a documentary of his travels mainly in Asia. One of them is China, a country which has a great impact on industries by the increasing numbers of manufactories, which planned the Three Gorges Dam. It is the biggest dam in China and 600 km around the dam had to be destroyed. This massive transformation shaped the landscape in a dramatic way. The surrounded buildings were demolished by hand done by inhabitants; this transformation was again wanted. The need for power drived the country to change the landscape massively by ignoring the needs of the locals. Burtynski wanted to show the dramatic change and how nature and humans are 
suffering due to globalisation. His images document this transformation by showing genuine truth. 
He created ’images/places allowing viewers to comprehend the scale, a different kind of landscape‘ through the positioning of the lenses. The observer is transferred to the scene and sees the reality. 

After changing his camera, the way how Burtynski examines his surrounding changes too. He changes the scale from a human scale to a bird’s eye view. After ten years humans are not anymore positioned in the images. Landscapes from above captured as picturesque oeuvres become his main interest. The aerial perspective shows a superiority of the photographer towards ordinary people. Burtynski illustrates the beauty and the ugliness of our actions. His ’Pivot Irrigation’ shoots in Texas and Arizona are an remarkable example for interpreting and rethinking the landscapes in a rather abstract and artistic way. Burtynski works now even more consciously with contrasts in his images as for his shoots in Iceland (cf. Dyralaekir river in Myrdalssandur, 2012). 

Comparing his previous works with his current methods, Burtynski advanced his techniques and his way of communicating his ideas is striking. In my judgement he unifies research and photography in a harmonious way. The observer feels attracted to his pictures without loosing himself in their beauty.

-Asal Mohtashami

William A. Garnett_The Liminal State

Aerial Photography + The Liminal State (suburbia)

The raison d’etre of Ariel photography is to reveal itself as the creation and visual representation, of varying scales of surface terrain. This ‘non-oblique’ form of photography acts as a ‘flattening’ of the image, further enhancing the subject matter of the surface being ‘documented’. In saying this, the deliberate ‘framing’ of the surface partially removes the ‘matter-of-fact’ element which concerns most aerial photography, particularly with reference to the purposes of a ‘pure’ documentation of the landscape, and it transcends to the realms of ‘art’. An art form whose primary interest is abstraction, the understanding of human interaction and more recently, it is a critique of man’s effect upon the natural environment.

William A. Garnett was a aerial photographer whose work focused upon this ‘interaction’ of man and the natural setting. For over 50 years, and 10,000 flying hours ( akin to a commercial airline pilot), Garnett piloted his own ‘Cessna 170’ light aircraft while simultaneously photographing the surface below. Ansel Adams once commented that ‘“...when Garnett was flying his plane, he was literally flying the camera”. He used a variety of camera formats, film types and methods for this purpose, with the end result consisting mostly of ‘silver prints’ which show his diverse portfolio which varied from ‘pure abstraction’ to almost geometric ‘patterned compositions’. It is in its essence, its dramatic abstracted matriculation, the synecdoche of the term ‘suburbia’. 

To describe Garnetts photographs as ones which concern ‘landscapes’ would be conceited, as many of his studies are free from the convention of grounding the image with the datum of a horizon line. This allows his work to focus on the geometric patterns, organic shapes and dramatic escarpments of the natural terrain which are not observable to those of the ground.

“Aerial photography in the 20th century served primarily as a documentary medium. William Garnett stands out as a pioneer in turning aerial photography into an art form. Through his camera work, Garnett looked for and emphasized beauty in the American landscape. With a conservationist’s turn of mind, he found pleasure searching out details in the terrain below him,” 
Stephen Jareckie

Garnett’s initial recognition came when he published his series ‘Lakewood Housing’, this portfolio of work catalogs the construction of the Lakewood housing development in the suburbs of Los Angeles city. It is a series which is influenced by scale, abstraction, composition, critique and social narration. These tightly framed photos are most devoid of any people, but are completely conscious of the effect of ‘man’s’ interaction with the natural setting and revealing the abstract forms of urban development. Garnett’s self efficacy sought to transcend the journalistic role of the documentarian, in order to capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’; which was the capturing within an image, the ulterior life of time and place. Taking aerial photos in an aeroplane as it moves across a terrain creates unique spatial and temporal demands of the photographer, Garnett pointed out that the delay in circling a plane around to gain a similar vantage point quite often meant that the light and conditions had changed and as a consequence so had the image. 

Lakewood Series_

Kevin O'Brien

Powers Of Ten

Kees Boeke was a Dutch reformist educator, Quaker missionary and pacifist. Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps is an essay published by Boeke in 1957. It  combines writing and graphics to explore many levels of size and structure, from the astronomically vast to the atomically tiny.

Cosmic View makes explicit the global implications of an expanded sense of scale: at stake is the very nature of what it means to be human. ‘It is a matter of life and death for the whole of mankind’, Boeke argues, ‘that we learn to live together . . . No difference of nationality, of race, creed, or conviction, age or sex may weaken our effort as human beings to live and work for the good of all”

The essay begins with a simple photograph of a Dutch girl sitting outside her school and holding a cat. The essay first backs up from the original photo, with graphics that include more and more of the vast reaches of space in which the girl is located.

It then narrows in on the original picture, with graphics that show ever smaller areas until the nucleus of a sodium atom is reached. Boeke writes commentary on each graphic, along with introductory and concluding notes.

Boeke’s Ccosmic View was recognised as the inspiration for a number of short films exploring the same of scale.
Powers of Ten (1968, 1977)

One of the most influential of these films was Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe, and the Effect of Adding Another Zero, created by Charles and Ray Eames, first released in 1968 and re-released 1977 , for IBM. It explores this idea of a continuity of scale, and the consequent comparability of the gigantic and the minuscule, by zooming to the outer limits of telescopic and microscopic visibility, one power of ten at a time.

The Eameses sought to foster universal understanding of socially beneficial science. To help people understand new technologies and their potential, they produced approximately sixty films, exhibitions, and books for such corporations as IBM, Boeing, Polaroid, and Westinghouse. The Eameses joined with many scientists as visual communicators of their work.
These projects translated complex ideas into simple images to make them understandable to the lay person. The ultimate Eamesian expression of systems and connections is the Powers of Ten. The 1977 film travels from an aerial view of a man in a Chicago park to the outer limits of the universe directly above him and back down into the microscopic world contained in the man's hand.

The short film opens with a view of a couple settling down to a picnic 100. It is set in a park near Soldier Feild in Chicago on a sunny day. The man and woman arrange themselves on a striped cloth; the man lies down, palm on his chest. The film moves to stills and the man becomes an object like the apples or grapes of his picnic; his human measure the centre of the ensuing journey across 40 scales.

The 3 large scale photos of the Chicago bay area were taken by the Chicago aerial survey , commissioned by the Eames office. The widest shot  10 4 had to be taken from a specially equipped high altitude plane.

The first photo of the couple was a 30 Inch in size. The photo was then shrunk to a 3 inch and carefully glued to a 30 inch photo of a wider view of Chicago.
This 30 inch photo was then shrunk to 3 Inches and placed into the center of a photo of the next power of 10.  This method was used throughout the film.

By 106, we have reached the altitude of the atmosphere, and at 107 we see the entire earth, in a view that clearly is meant to recall image 22727 (‘The Blue Marble’), taken only five years earlier. A few more jumps take us into space and the realm of planetary orbits: the moon, the earth, Venus and Mars. Soon the entire solar system with its nine planetary orbits fills the screen, but by 1014, it has dwindled to just one point, the sun like any other star. By the time we arrive at 1022, the Milky Way is merely one small point of light, one galaxy among many. At 1024 we are given a moment to contemplate the lonely reaches of space, where entire galaxies have shrunk to the size of dust. 

We now penetrate the world revealed by the microscope.
The man’s hand is the focus, both the starting point and the symbol of scale. At 10–2 the hand’s surface, enlarged so its lines seem like immense furrows, comes into view; at 10–3 we penetrate the skin and enter one of its blood vessels. Moving down even further to the atomic scale, at 10–10 we encounter their outer electrons in a view whose black background spangled with white dots resembles nothing so much as the outer reaches of the universe. At 10–12 the cell’s carbon nucleus, ‘so massive and so small’, with its six protons and six neutrons, comes into view; at 10–13 we reach it: the universal module, building block of matter and of life. At 10–16 the film ends in a riot of subatomic motion and colour. (Di Palma, Vitoria)

Powers of Ten illustrates the universe as an arena of both continuity and change, of everyday picnics and cosmic mystery. The film also demonstrates the Eameses' ability to make science both fascinating and accessible.

Di Palma, Vitoria. Zoom: Google Earth and Global Intimacy.
Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps, Book online at -

Di Palma, Vitoria. Zoom: Google Earth and Global Intimacy.
Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps, Book online at -