Manufactured Landscapes

Manufactured Landscapes

This was the second film we watched in this course and was chosen specifically because it highlights human activity, in particular industrialization, on the environment and how these activities significantly alter the physical geography of regions.

IMDb: Manufactured Landscapes (13 June 2007 (Belgium))

Photographer Edward Burtynsky travels the world observing changes in landscapes due to industrial work and manufacturing.


10 thoughts on “Manufactured Landscapes”

  1. The overflow of waste and human modification to the Earth shown in Manufactured Landscapes conjures sweats of uneasiness and guilt for someone living in the western world unsure of the impacts they have personally contributed to. From purchasing products built in the immense industrial plants to adding to the e-waste in incredibly impoverished neighborhoods, all forms of contribution seem hollow.

    The film attempts to tackle a whole range of human impacts on vastly different scales; local scale pollution due to global use of electronics against measurable global changes because of local flood protection and energy needs. The scope of the movie is therefore very large but still manages to evoke feelings of awe and uneasiness for each problem presented.

    The images captured at each location and shown in the documentary were some of the most stunning visuals as they summed up the video footage very well and captured the loss of the natural world in the scenes. Overall an intense film about the effects humans can have and how certain groups can be marginalized because of them.

  2. This documentary followed the steps of photographer Ed Burtynsky who focused on capturing landscapes that had been immensely altered by human activities. A large portion of the film took place in China and some other developing countries. His photographs captured the unique beauty of these heavily influenced landscapes that were typically thought as unpleasant.

    The film began at one of the largest clothes production factories in China. The factory was colossal that it employed 23000 workers. Ed Burtynsky took a photo during a daily routine gathering where each worker looked so exhausted and indifferent. They also went to the Three Gorges Dam which was the largest dam in the world. In order to make the dam fully functional, over a million people were uprooted and thirteen cities were flooded underwater. Another place that also struck me was an unknown part of China where the village was surrounded by fields of abandoned electronic parts. All villagers dedicated to recycle the reusable parts, and children were playing and running on the slopes that were entirely made of these wastes.

    It cannot be denied that Ed’s photos certainly can be called beautiful, but they still motivate people to think more in-depth. For me, the first question that jumped into my head was what our modern society was built on? It has been built in the purpose of increasing people’s happiness and living standards, but in this film, I saw so many people living in a worse environment because of modern development. This so-called prosperity is built on the sacrifice of a large number of population. Most of the film was recorded in China, but as a Chinese who has lived in there for most of his life, I did not even know certain places existed in China. For example, the village surrounded by electronic wastes was totally a shock to me, which reminded me that China still needed to undergo a large amount of development before everyone can reach a higher living standard.

    Because the film had a minimum amount of commentary, audiences were allowed to develop their individual understanding. As for me, this film motivated me to solve these existing problems between development and environment.

  3. Much like Koyaanisqatsi, Manufactured Landscapes approaches issues of urbanization, environmental degradation, and the modern world from the perspective of art and tainted beauty. Ed Burtynsky takes a journey through Chinese manufacturing hubs and disassembly operations representing both the progress and degradation modern human actions bring to the world. This manipulation, Burtynsky seems to argue through his photographs, leaves scars not only on the world but on its inhabitants as well. Every image he brings to the table shows the sheer magnitude of what man has made; every trash heap is a mountain and the dams walls blocking out an old world.

    What separates Manufactured Landscapes from nearly every other film about environmental issues is the inclusion of still photography, and stunningly beautiful photography at that. Every image leaves the viewer with a feeling of awe, a desire to see more of Burtynsky’s work, but a simultaneous knowledge that a picture is as close as they would ever like to be to these places. They are tainted, damaged by the greed and consumption of people far from these locations, likely similar to those watching the images on a screen. This is the beauty of these images; they are beautiful and repulsive but intrinsically linked to the viewer. And this is what is needed, a call to action through a recognition of man’s actions.

    Authored by Julie Fowler

  4. The photos in the film Manufactured Landscapes are like oil paintings. The colors seemed to be making a point. Chinese factory workers in the lens look like human machine. The quick and slow movements are all pre-modified and robotic. The flow and repetition have a surreal feel to them. It is a streamline of predicaments and empty but focused faces. When zoomed out on the scale, the production scene is almost dizzying and the rhyme almost oppressing. This is the factory of the world. Sunflowers are used as company culture symbol but instead of optimism and nature, they seem to me representations of a simplistic mindset fixated on productivity.

    As Burtynsky travels, we follow the still images and see garbage city. The abstract coloring is a contrast with harsh reality. Wastes are everywhere but in former lives, these are products packaged in consumerism. Produced, used and abandoned, the wastes/products had a very short life cycle. The manual labor trained to be precise in producing these products are used again to process the wastes. The materials come from all around the world. The repetitive production runs on forever but the wastes left behind in nature, and often times shipped to the developing countries. The separate landfill unit formed a panoramic physical system and the toxic smell betrayed lead and other heavy metal in the water. Resources and energy take particular forms in Burtynsky’s lens. The coalmine photos amaze us of its dimension. The photos are displayed in museums and galleries. Viewers look at these iron and cooper mine captured in the stills, trying to make sense of the images. We cognitively know the existence of the extraction industry but images bring the landscape to the consciousness. Crude oil went through dangerous processing to be polished and refined. The massive energy inside the black liquid is the building block of the city. Is it sustainable? How to take part in intentionally replace oil? Is everything too little too late? Lastly, Burtynsky brings us to the dense, high-rise cities where population multiplier is flying. We see the new and old part of Shanghai, the clashes between tradition and new ways of thinking, gentrification and the politicized environment. Most representative is the image of a “DingZiHu”, who refused to move her house to clear the way for a real estate development project.

    The film doesn’t give us an answer. It is a perceptive observational tour and leaves viewers with many questions and thoughts.

  5. Manufactured Landscapes offers the unbiased impact that the environmental movement needs. Without any words, the images and videos capture the severity and size of today’s urban modifications to our natural landscape. The film begins with a slow panorama of the largest clothing factory in China. The sheer size of the factory, and also its uniformity, is frightening. I was enamored by how the photographer was able to provoke emotion from his audience. Within the film, we witness miles and miles of factories, workers, e-waste, and plunder. The audience cannot help but feel the impact.

    Manufactured Landscapes begins with silence. As the shot pans left across a massive factory, workers dressed in yellow pass by in even rows, and the sounds of machinery crescendo into cacophony. On one side of the factory, there is silence. On the other side, there is incredible noise. It is striking that so many different sounds exist separately within a single warehouse. The sheer expanse of it is jarring.

    The film follows photographer Edward Burtynsky as he travels around China, taking photos of decimated natural landscapes – of villages dismantled for the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, of massive aluminum smelters, of coal ash outside a steel factory, of homes in the Zhejiang province choked with imported garbage. The film’s ars poetica-style focus on Burtynsky’s artistic process was frustrating. The images speak for themselves, and having such a large space to discuss one’s own photographic process made the entire film very anthropocentric. This seemed counterintuitive to me, as Burtynsky immediately introduces deep ecology at the beginning of the film – equating environmental destruction to self-destruction. However, Burtynsky does not really address any sort of clear environmental ethic for the remainder of the film; he even says that he actively doesn’t articulate an environmental ethic when presenting his art. On his website, Burtynsky says,

    “These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear… For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.”

    I do not see Burtynsky’s images as metaphors. I see them as what they are: mountains made of car tires, a woman sorting e-waste in wicker baskets, incomprehensibly massive amounts of trash. A mountain split open completely at the Carrara marble quarries. When I look at these images, hear Tim Seible’s poem “First Verse” in my head:

    I see now
    The Earth itself does have a face.
    If it could say I it would
    plead with the universe, the way
    dinosaurs once growled
    at the stars.
    It’s like
    the road behind us is stolen
    completely so the future can
    never arrive. So, look at this: look
    what we’ve done. With all
    we knew.
    With all we knew
    that we knew.

  7. Manufactured Landscapes, an hour and a half long documentary released in 2006, is a work directed by Jennifer Baichwal. The film follows visual artist and photographer Ed Burtynsky as he travels throughout China and delves deep inside the factories that create Western exports, examining how these ‘manufactured landscapes’ have affected the overall environment and way of life of the affected Chinese.
    The first couple of minutes of the film are by far the most impactful (at least to me personally) – consisting of long, stationary recordings mixed in with wide, slow pans of the factory itself, the audience is fully exposed to the deeply personal inner workings of the factory, where workers make clothes irons relentlessly and without err. Workers are seen taking naps at their work stations and are even antagonized by their superior on camera, illustrating the interpersonal reverberations caused by this manufactured landscape and humanizing the workers who must adhere to this unnatural, manmade ‘landscape.’
    The effect of the Three Gorges Dam on surrounding citizens is explored as well. Although it is recorded as being the largest dam in the world, the execution and construction of the Three Gorges Dam has invariably destroyed the living spaces of over one million Chinese, and has flooded a myriad of villages, towns, and cities. The argument being presented is though these ‘manufactured landscapes’ play a significant role in influencing and altering humanity’s economic landscape, the effect on the natural landscape and the people who inhabit it is often greatly detrimental, and creates consequences which ultimately outweigh the benefits.

  8. Film Review: Manufactured Landscapes – Edward Burtynsky in dialog with Chasing Ice – James Balog

    Manufactured Landscapes (2007) directed by Jennifer Baichwal documents the photographic work of artist Edward Burtynsky. The film opens with a specific look at a Chinese manufacturing plant where clothing irons are made by 23,000 workers. The iron is something virtually everyone in an industrialized nation owns. This is Burtynsky attempt to strike a humanist chord with his audience, implicating them in his narrative. While Burtynsky’s sole mission appears artistic, along the way he highlights contemporary environmental concerns related to man-altered landscapes. Displayed in galleries, Burtynsky’s photography exhibitions do not prompt the viewer with politicized dietetic information, implying what the viewer should see. Instead, he gives the viewer a chance to confront our collective reality as he presents it. In this way, Burtynsky avoids argumentation for a cause and instead presents a reality that cannot be denied.

    As discussed in class, there is an interesting focus on Burtynsky that almost detracts from the environmental issues at hand. While some students were critical of his work, I believe it merits further consideration. Admittedly, the subject matter he explores seems too large for him to adequately present, let alone offer solutions to. And yet, some found Burtynsky’s humanity lacking, missing an additional step of altruistic action. Nevertheless, he is making an important contribution to a wider conversation of these issues by spreading awareness. “Because sometimes, just being pure of heart and having good intentions and letting them be known is the most worthy contribution an artist can make.” If we think of him in this context, it would seem that the flaw in his work is his intention. While this could certainly be the case, this argument is hard to make because as an artist, his obligation is to no one other than himself, his art. I almost wonder if he is making things a little too clear for us and as a result the aversion some of my classmates had to the film/photographer is on some level a response of guilt. Similarly I wonder if some people find it trivializing that this is being viewed as art. This is perhaps almost cruel and alienating to those whose realities it captures.
    Someone has to document and circulate the image. Photographers are the purveyors of hope. They take something totally demolished and are the first to attempt the task of reconstruction. Especially in photojournalism after natural disasters, these photographers must take visually compelling images of people’s worst nightmares, and inspire action through their ability to capture the diamond in the rough. They tell the rest of us how to look at our new environment. In relation to Burtynsky, visually what he is doing is figuring out how to look at this new kind of matter in our world (e.g. massive factories, e-waste) and how to utilise it effectively.

    Breaking Ice (2012) directed by Jeff Orlowski documents the work of James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS). In comparison to Manufactured Landscapes where we see a more systematic and scientific method of documentation, the end result is slightly less artistic and more scientifically methodological. In terms of persuading the public, this is advantageous. Balog also takes a clear stance on how he sees things, and yet his contribution, effectively is the same. They both are documenting environmental issues of our time. Perhaps we perceive there is something more the photographer could be doing with the landscapes he documents. For Chasing Ice, there really is nothing James Balog and his team can do but take pictures and measurements, and then tell people about them. In a way, what if the two men’s environments were flipped, would we still have the same opinions? But this kind of hypothetical situation is not so simple, we have to think about what draws each photographer to their medium. For Balog there is also an element of shock as well. I mean watching those caving scenes is quite dramatic.

    But in order to do something about these issues, the public first has to be aware of them as such. And in all fairness the idea of global warming and ice caps melting has been in the public consciousness longer. The idea of e-waste is a relatively new and emerging issue. Perhaps in Manufactured Landscapes, we are looking more directly at specific material aspects of our life that are contributing to this negative effect. While in watching Chasing Ice, we are much more removed from the material consumption that is feeding the issue, and it is far more impersonal. The only real moment of interpersonal subject matter is Balog himself, at the beginning when the camera footage is lost and Balog breaks down.

    Photography is a way of proving the material world. This is why both men’s works are so effective. To Balog’s point, it is very hard to argue with photographic evidence. However, while this helps both photographers, I still find this incredibly problematic. There is an issue with using artistic photography to do scientific research. There is a conflict between artistic license and the scientific method. I think the only images that merritt classification as art are those that were not made with the intention of taking measurements. The medium of photography has a certain power, cultural and social power, that we associate with truth. This is why retouched images are so controversial. And yet while it is assumed to have this connection with truth, that truth is incredibly susceptible to distortion and choices of enframement. Even with Balog there are issues of enframement. Clearly not every piece of footage that was shot was included in their documentary. Stories have surfaced in the press about some of this unaired footage that has sparked quite a bit of controversy (dying polar bears).

    Map making faces similar challenges, blurring the line between science and art.There are really old maps that surely have artistic merit, but these are not art. They are scientific, meaning the cartographer is under some professional code of ethics to abide by his measurements. However, as we know this has not always been the case, as history has proven. Incorrectly made or outright duplicitous, maps place things with certainty, that visuals help to reinforce. Just because artistic license is not permitted for these visuals does not mean it is not used. Effectively, whenever used it should be noted. However, there are always going to be gaps, artifice is effective yet not scientific. A map can be wrong, art cannot. It can be illegal in the eyes of the law, but this is an entirely separate issue that affects a work in every realm of its existence, except its status as art. Chasing Ice is not art, nor does it belong in a gallery. Nor should it aim to be, as this would discredit and trivialize their findings. Chasing Ice is an effective application of the art of photography to the realm of environmental science.

    In closing, I think it is important to remember that we live in a time where science and medicine have a disproportionate amount of influence on all aspects of life. With this rise of science, the arts have become increasingly devalued. With this said, it is important to now look back at these two photographers, and thus consider their work within this simplified context. Effectively, both artists are attempting a link between science and art. This is the kind of thinking we need more of if we are to find effective solutions to the problems of our time.

    (also posted under Chasing Ice)

  9. Director Jennifer Baichwal follows acclaimed British photographer Edward Burtynsky on a journey to China and Bangladesh in the film Manufactured Landscapes. Burtynsky is best known for his vivid imagery of man-made impacts on the environment, especially as they are made from the industrial and manufacturing sectors. In this particular film, Burtynsky’s photographic focus is on the processes of recycling, mass production, and rapid infrastructure building in the growing economies of China and Bangladesh, and the impacts of those processes on the environment. There are allusions made to how extensive consumption from the West adversely impacts these nations as they are forced to deal with the societal and environmental damages of processing the trash and remains from such consumption.

    The film does not follow a particular narrative; rather, it focuses on certain “legs” of Burtynsky’s photographic journey to capture some of the most captivating human-altered landscapes, starting with a mass-production factory in Fujian, China, to the dangerous art of shipbreaking in Bangladesh, to ghost cities created as a result of the building of the Three Gorges Dam. There is minimal narration and rather a stronger focus on interviews conducted with locals and workers in these environments. If there is narration, most of it consists of Burtynsky’s reflections on the images he captures. The film is also mildly biographical as it captures the success of Burtynsky’s work, with footage of galleries featuring his photography and of him speaking in front of larger audiences.

    While I found this film captivating in its choice of landscapes and in terms of the narratives portrayed in the film, especially those of workers, I could not help but sense a feeling of a “white savior” complex exhibited by Burtynsky. While it enrages me that Western societies are largely blind to the detriments of excessive consumerism to vulnerable populations around the world who have to clean up from our mess and the environment, I felt that there was insufficient background given throughout the film to educate viewers adequately on what exactly they were seeing. I also would have hoped to have seen measures in which citizens of these filmed nations are showing how they are helping themselves in these detriments—instead of seeming completely helpless to the mercy of Burtynsky’s professional lens. The film confusingly oscillated from being a biographical depiction of Burtynsky’s work and expertise to being an environmental advocacy film. Unfortunately, the film did not oscillate between these two topics that made either topic a clear main theme or message of the film, falling short of great potential to move and catalyze audiences to take action on unsafe and pollutive business practices and taking stewardship of our environment.

    Overall, in an artistic sense, I appreciate the effort taken to encapsulate some of these breathtaking, wondrous, horrifying and cryptic scenes of landscapes destroyed by mankind, forever altered. The use of scale in the manufacturing scenes made me feel a clear sense of how industry reinforces uniformity and strips away innovation and individuality in society, as society depends on such industries to barely survive. At the same time, I have hope that practices are adjusting internationally to combat such exploitative practices and feel that films should be empowering activists and changemakers who are challenging these systems. As an activist myself, this film could have certainly done more, and is not impactful enough just because it depicted the work of an internationally acclaimed photographer.

  10. The film, Manufactured Landscape, is directed by Jennifer Baichwal illustrating changes in landscapes due to human interaction through photographer Edward Burtynsky. The first scene was a factory in China where numerous people worked on their part in producing products. To me, I felt like they are part of the machinery in the factory because not one of them stood out but only worked on specific area such as assembling pieces together, checking plastic pieces that goes in to products and so on. I was surprised by how many trashes are generated when making an iron. This film well interrelate audience and the scene of trashes because clothes irons are used by people all around the world. Also, majority of the products that we use today (chopstick, tv, clothes, etc.) are made in China. From this I felt that not only industries making the products are responsible but also we are responsible for the lack of environmental awareness when purchasing and using the products from these industries.

    I had contrasting views on the photographs because some of the photos looked like an art piece rather than altered environment. I think this is one of the method that Baichwal uses to grab viewers attention. Only presenting graphical images could overwhelm the audiences which could possibly make them lose interest or deny the fact that this is actually related with us. By mixing “dirty” and “beautiful”, the film well balances between the two to motivate the audience to focus and be aware of the environmental deficits that we are creating.

    Similar to the first film that we watched in this class, this film also does not have much of a narration throughout. Limiting narration helps the audience to focus more on the graphics and pictures of “manufactured landscapes” created by all of us who are related to a certain extent. Another interesting feature of this film was that there was mixture of videos and pictures. Pictures of mountain of trashes, altered landscapes, factories, and more all shows devastating condition that we are faced with. I would have to say, the best part of the film was where Burtynsky was convincing Chinese official to take photographs on a industry site. Chinese official did know that they are doing massive environmental damages and photographs that Burtynsky take could negatively impact the society. Here we have to think as an audience how we could both manage industrial by-products and environment for us to healthily conserve and preserve this planet.

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