Altered States

Edward Burtynsky's images of factories, industrial sites, and torn-up landscapes like quarries have a stunning beauty -- even for people who don't fantasize about all the revenue they generate. His large-scale pictures steep viewers in a kind of awe, with weighty pronouncements like "What hath man wrought?" battling more gut-level reactions like "Wow, that quartz mine looks awesome." They play upon the contradictory themes of prosperity and suffering (upon both the workers and the environment) and repetition plays a big role in their attraction -- piles of waste and recyclables, machine after machine, and armies of workers populate his best work. In the documentary Manufactured Landscapes, director Jennifer Baichwal follows the photographer across China (and onto lecture floor, à la An Inconvenient Truth) as he visits iconic sites of that country's Wild West industrial revolution, including the Three Gorges Dam project and E-waste recycling centers, which sometimes consist of nothing more than a few women pounding on motherboards in a small village. Although the slow, meditative camerawork and sparse dialogue will try some viewers' patience (the movie presents rather than proselytizes), the film manages to make Burtynsky's pictures even more powerful by providing scraps of context behind the finished work.

 
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