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Shipbreaking #1
Oil Refinery #18
Edward Burtynsky, Burtynsky, photograph, colour photograph, industry, scale, oil refinery, ship breaking, dismantling, documentation, environment, pollution, labour, workers, 2D art, two-dimensional art, environmental, industrialization, Bangladesh, New Brunswick, consumption, industrial landscape

Edward Burtynsky's photographs of industry are striking documents. In one sense, they are  contemporaryCurrent, belonging to the same period of time. Usually referring to our present time, but can refer to being current with any specified time. (Artlex.com)  equivalents to James' images featured here, in that they show an important step in the means of production. Burtynsky's photographs, however, are more concerned with the  scaleThe proportion between two sets of dimensions.  of industry than with the  scaleThe proportion between two sets of dimensions.  of wilderness, as in his photographs we are shown smoke, sheet metal, and endless piping. Notice also the quality of light in these images; the air is greyish-blue and greyish-orange due to the pollutants it contains. Burtynsky, therefore, recognizes that the industry he photographs is a powerful force that is changing the environment we all inhabit, and yet he is fascinated by the material that industry consumes and uses. This is especially true since the process the workers are performing in  ShipbreakingLiterally the demolition of an old ship for scrap – a kind of recycling.  is the dismantling of the products of industry, rather than their construction.

Like William James, Burtynsky has captured the harsh conditions that workers experience in the name of industrialization. But unlike James, Burtynsky seems aware of the environmental destruction that industry can cause. This is indicated not only by the fact that he has shown the environmental effects in the air, but also by the fact that he shows the labourers in Shipbreaking #1, Chittagong, Bangladesh performing their work. They are not standing proudly, posing for the  cameraIn photography, a tool for producing photographs, having a lightproof enclosure with an aperture and a shuttered lens through which the image of an object is focused and recorded on a photosensitive film or plate. In video, a device that receives the primary image on a light-sensitive cathode tube and transforms it into electrical impulses. (Artlex.com) Find out about 35-mm cameras at Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/135_film  and displaying their tools, but are instead invested in the act of labour itself, as though their work consumes them.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • What might Burtynsky's fascination with this kind of industrialization be based on? Do you think he is opposed to it, or in favour of it? What in his images suggests that this is the case?

  • The chemicals used in traditional photography are incredibly toxic; Burtynsky uses these in his own work to make his photographs.  In what way might this contradict the apparent message of his works?
Studio Activity
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Appliance drawings

Select an object in your house, an appliance of some kind, like a refrigerator or television, and find out more about how that product works.

  • Make a set of drawings, one for each component of the appliance.

  • Label your drawings with descriptions of the ways in which the various components can safely be disposed of, and whether they pose any threat to the environment.


Studio Activity
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Burtynsky's two photographs Shipbreaking #1, Chittagong, Bangladesh and  OilSlow-drying paint made when pigments are mixed with an oil, linseed oil being most traditional. The oil dries with a hard film, and the brightness of the colours is protected. Oil paints are usually opaque and traditionally used on canvas. They can have a matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finish. To look at examples of works in oil paints, see the articles under the names of every period from the Renaissance onward. (Artlex.com)  Refinery #18, Saint John, New Brunswick are taken in two very different locations, New Brunswick, Canada, and Chittagong, Bangladesh.

  • Given the similarity of these images and their content, what can we learn about globalization from these images?

  • Find out more about globalization and write a poem or a song about these two images and their relationship to globalization.



Adams, James.  ‘Burtynsky wins Roloff Beny award.’  Toronto Globe and Mail, June 16, 2004.

Burtynsky, Edward.  ‘Exploring the Residual Landscape.’  Artist statement, Galleries West, Summer, 2004.

Cybermuse.  ‘Edward Burtynsky.’  Artist’s Page.  Retrieved from the Internet on October 20, 2008 fromhttp://www.cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/search/artist_e.jsp?iartistid=815

Dixon, Guy.  ‘A warning from the wastelands.’  Toronto Globe and Mail, April 7, 2005.

Mays, John Bentley.  ‘A melancholy beauty.’  National Post, April 25, 2001.

McQueen, Alison. Constructed Identities: Ed Burtynsky and Suzy Lake.  Exhibition catalogue.  Burlington Art Centre, Burlington, Ontario, 2001.

Media release.  ‘Major  retrospectiveAn exhibition of work by a senior artist representing all the stages of the artist’s career.  of photographer Edward Burtynsky on view at the National Gallery of Canada.’  National Gallery of
Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, January 29, 2003.

Milroy, Sarah.  ‘Burtynsky’s view of China rising.’  Toronto Globe and Mail, October 15, 2005.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning