I first came across the work of Edward Burtynsky on a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario in the spring of 2004. From the nickel tailings of Sudbury to the ship-breaking beaches of Bangladesh, I was awed by these vibrant images of horrendous environmental damage. Nowadays I visit art galleries hoping that something will resonate with me in the same way, and often exit through the gift shop in disappointment.
Jennifer Baichwal's 2006 documentary, Manufactured Landscapes, recently allowed me to revisit that exhibit. Baichwal follows Burtynsky across China as he photographs E-waste villages, the Three Gorges Dam, and Shanghai's real-estate boom. Baichwal gives context to some of Burtynsky's most well known photography by filming him at work in the midst of vast expanses of environmental destruction. What I appreciated the most about Baichwal's direction was her ability to film the artist at work and at the same time capture the scope of the surrounding devastation. She moves seamlessly from Burtynsky's framing P.O.V. into the final photograph, then steps back out of the photograph and into the exhibit.
This film is art on art. Although Baichwal doesn't fully explore Burtynsky's character and motivation, this remains an impressive collaboration between two of Canada's most talented documentarians.