Manufactured Landscapes, Edward Burtynsky

Manufactured Landscapes is the first major retrospective of Edward Burtynsky’s work, published in 2003. The book is a beautiful collection of several series that he has created, these are Railcuts, Mines and Tailings, Quarries, Urban Mines, Oil Fields and Refineries, and Shipbreaking.

Burtynsky creates amazing photos of large scale projects, and landscapes; looking at the environmental impact of man and nature. He shows how man is using and changing nature to such an enormous degree.

The book was published by the National Gallery of Canada and the Yale University Press. It is a good size book, measuring 11″ x 13″ in a portrait format and contains 64 full images. The printing is very good quality and the attention to detail shows.


The Quarries is a series of photos at several rock quarries. At first glance they look like just beautiful abstract prints of the rock. It takes a few moments looking at the print that you notice the impact of man. From the perspective and scale you aren’t really sure what you’re looking at, but its beautiful. A little further study shows the enormity, the rocks being cut and how small the construction equipment and people look really shows the size of the effort.


Urban Mines

The next series in the book is Urban Mines, which shows scenes of large piles and piles of stuff; scrap metal, auto parts and telephones, oil filters and tin cans. The Quarries started me out with an awe of man’s ability to cut away stone, the Urban Mines brings a realization of the consequences of these abilities.

One such consequence from our luxury of driving cars is their byproducts the scrap metal of engines and parts, and tires, lots of tires. The Oxford Tire Pile in Westley, California held 40 million tires, Burtynsky attempts to show the sense of scale using three different images of the discard tires.

Shortly after the photos were taken, the tires caught fire due to lighting and burned for a month straight, releasing noxious smoke and oil drained into a nearby stream. I remember seeing the smoke in the Bay Area which was more than 80 miles away.


Oil Fields

One of the most impressive photos in the book is the diptych of the oil field in Belridge, California. The diptych spans across the two open pages and the perspective and depth of field of the picture shows oil derrick going on forever.


Shipbreaking Series

I was first introduced to his work as an assignment from a class I was taking to go to a gallery and write a photo critique. I reviewed Burtynsky’s Shipbreaking series about workers in Bangladesh who dismantle large freighter ships, practically by hand.

The series highlights how massive of a project it is to build and then have
later dismantle large freighter ships. Showing how much work is involved taking apart the massive ship is a testament to how much engineering and work went into building it. It is an amazing series both from subject matter but also the large prints.


I saw the Manufactured Landscapes exhibit at Stanford’s Cantor Art Center when it was traveling around, also were I purchased the book. If you ever get the chance to see Burtynsky’s work in person take it. His prints are large, often 40″ x 60″ and seeing these full size prints in person is stunning.

The book is still available on Amazon, a fantastic collection of work by Edward Burtynsky. I look forward to the next book of his, China, which I’ve already pre-ordered but must wait until April 2016 to receive.