Last year, T.O.P placed Edward Burtynsky in the No. 3 spot on its Ten Best Living Photographers List, describing him, in Mike's words, as "the landscapist of the 21st century, the visual chronicler of humanity overrunning Earth."
Or you could take Burtynsky's own self-assessment, a simple equation he laid out for reluctant Chinese authorities in the course of explaining to them why they should let him photograph the Three Gorges Dam. "I photograph big things," he told them, "and you make big things."
Burtynsky recounted that (possibly apocryphal) story last Wednesday night at the official U.S. premiere of "Manufactured Landscapes," a feature-length documentary film about the photographer and his work made by fellow Canadian Jennifer Baichwal (below right). The film, which has won a pocketful of notable awards at film festivals and the like, will be showing at Film Forum in New York City for the next ten days, then meanders around a couple dozen U.S. cities between now and December. (See the Zeitgeist Films website for playdates.)
The film is largely shot in China and ostensibly follows Burtynsky as he makes images of that country's intense industrial expansion. It's artful, interesting and thought-provoking throughout, and worth making an effort to find if it makes its way anywhere near you. Photographers should be aware, however, that "Manufactured Landscapes" offers very little about Burtynsky's creative process and nothing about his photographic technique (other than what you can glean from fairly brief sequences of him using a 4x5 field camera). The film is much more interested in the ideas and questions implicit in Burtynsky's work—ideas about the foundations and consequences of our industrial/consumer economy and social structure.
Mercury Films, which produced "Manufactured Landscapes," tells us that the film has also been sold in a dozen or so other markets around the world. Check these distributors for playdates in their respective regions:
Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg—Cinemien
Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia—Terra Entertainment