Manufactured Landscapes is a documentary and a portrait of the celebrated Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky.
Traveling to China and Bangladesh, Burtynsky and photographed the effects of massive industrialization. The movie feels like you are watching still pictures strung together, and that’s actually what the frame story of the entire documentary is. The artist lectures at the opening of one of his shows, and we see some of his photographs broken up by movie clips and narration, mostly in Chinese by the interviewees with English subtitles.
The massive effects of human industrial development on nature and the land comes through with overwhelming force. We watch new widgets being built-in massive factories, we see how the widgets are packaged and shipped overseas. We see giant ships being built. And then we see those same giant ships being torn apart by barefoot children on the polluted beaches of Bangladesh 40 years later.
The effects of globalization are just beginning to dawn on us. Yet, there are people in this country that will state that climate change isn’t real, that it’s getting warmer as a natural cycle of the earth, and it will get cooler again when the earth decides to do so.
I have looked out of the window of airliners from 37,000 feet down onto the Eastern Seaboard, or Southern California, by day or by night, and the effect of humans on the planet on a massive scale are hugely apparent. The whole horizon is lit up at night with artificial light. By day, the scars upon the land run deep and jagged. There is no denying that man is modifying the surface of the earth. Looking down onto the brown soot of the Los Angeles basin from the pristine mountains of San Bernardino and not being able to see to the ground, it is difficult to assume that we’re not messing with the earth’s climate and air in the same massive proportions.
Scars upon the climate must be everywhere, they are just not as evident to see and touch, and in a way they are more dangerous. While the scars of Southern California stay right here and don’t wander off to mess up Yellowstone park, the poisons of China’s rivers and the pest of China’s air flows right over to our country. It just takes a few weeks or months until it gets here. And our air pollution floats to Europe, and then on to China.
Claiming that man isn’t affecting the climate, the air, the rivers and the oceans would be like claiming man isn’t modifying the landscape.
Manufactured Landscapes tells this story well.