Dec 16, 2007

manufactured landscapes

the high line wasn't open to the public when i was in new york in june, so i spent a saturday morning walking around the galleries overlooking the west side highway. i went into the charles cowles gallery purely to escape the heat, but was lured deeper by an enormous book-matched live-edge table. most of the art was pretentious and second-rate, but one room was dedicated entirely to large-format photography by edward burtynsky, who won the TED prize in 2005.

manufactured landscapes is a documentary retrospective of burtynsky's work, showing additional background footage from his visits to quarries, shipyards, and other places where industry has re-shaped the physical and social landscape. we saw it on monday night at hammer's. apart from the music (which was egregious, needlessly oppressive, and almost entirely in minor keys) it had a light touch for a 90-minute film about several places in the world where human activity has either created stultifying social environments or left enormous blights upon the land. doubtless this is because the photos are stunning and gorgeous.


shipyard #12, zhejiang, china: shipbuilding is making a hole in the sea and surrounding it with material. from the outside, once the hulls are complete, even large ships look like light envelopes, an illusion enhanced by their ponderous but ineluctable progress. this photo of the hull structure before the skin is riveted on, reveals the light envelope to be surprisingly hefty. compare this with the hull structure of a wooden boat, which is skeletal by contrast -- wood is stronger than steel by weight.


stilgoe used to say that progress is often misunderstood to necessarily be improvement where it frequently is only change.


shipbreaking #9, chittagong, bangladesh: the more massive the ship, the more it costs to disassemble -- in most countries, it costs more to break a ship than the parts are worth. old ships come to die on the shores of chittagong. usually pointed perpendicular to the shore and then abandoned with the engines running, these ships grind ashore and are taken apart for salvage. most sea-going ships of this vintage have hulls painted below the waterline with antifouling compounds -- toxic biocides designed to inhibit the growth of barnacles and other marine life on the hulls -- which are ground off as the ships slam into the sand. it looks a little like an overimagined collection of ancient greek warships.

if you are intrigued by this, you may also enjoy rustfetish, a photographer committed to exploring, up close, the pleasures of rust.

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