TORCH Gallery is pleased to present a selection of photographs by Canadian artist, Edward Burtynsky.
Edward Burtynsky’s different photo series’ names read as a Greenpeace issue list: Oil fields, rail cuts, ship breakings and many more. Lined up on the left edge of Burtynsky’s home page, each clickable category opens up to endless clichés, each of which we think to have seen on the evening news: paper clips of catastrophes, media’s favourite delicatessen broadcasted over and over again. Burtynsky’s pictures are beautifully monstrous, monstrously beautiful. They show what happens when men dream of reason and rationalize their environment: Stories of production and destruction in the name of progress. The ‘dream’, ‘manufactured’ and ‘residual’ scapes -as Burtynsky’s wide angle views have been qualified- monumentally spread in finely chiselled compositions. These crafted braid works of lines and colours seem to bear witness of a sense of harmony that the Canadian photographer would find wherever he looks at. However there is something about this apparent harmony which isn’t –cannot be- right. Because photographs convey a strong impression of reality, they are said to conceal their technical origins: As if Nature itself would brush the celluloid and intentionally leave a print of itself without any kind of human intervention. Burtynsky’s pictures play on the feeling of authenticity provided by the photographic medium and naturalize their critique of Modernity. Burtynsky’s pictures apparent aesthetic self-sufficiency only fascinates as the very condition for performing this critique. As the TORCH invitation card from the Oil Fields series show, the visual pleasure we seem at first to take in the rhythmic pattern emerging from those catastrophic-scapes mutates in a suffocating feeling. Its high, bleaching and -as if- evaporating horizon draws the soil of a visual labyrinth punctuated by multiple pales and horse-head pumps endlessly digging the earth, -as many mechanical flies pricking our retina. The only escape from these tempting -though nightmarish- sceneries seems to be the urgency of critical thinking. This is what justifies the link on Burtynsky´s web page to grass-roots and environmental organizations: To start asking ourselves whether we anyhow should be looking at any of these pictures and above all, fold our daily newspaper and -for once- get involved in active struggle.
Catherine Somzé, Amsterdam 2004