151MC: Edward Burtynsky: The Landscape That We Change

When researching further into my theme I found it relatively easy to find articles, books, journals and books on conservation and the human impacts but I found it more challenging to find specific photographers who had carried out similar projects. I began to look through my old lecture notes to find some possible bodies of work which relate to my idea. I stumbled across Edward Burtynsky’s work and when looking further into his projects I felt that they really resonated with me.

His series “Homesteads” shows the rudimentary relationship and interaction between humans and the landscape. The geographical location of the becomes almost insignificant since the primary elements of the images are the same; the homes and buildings which dot the rural land.

Homesteads #32: View from Highway 8, British Columbia (1985)
Homesteads #33: View from Trans Canada Highway. Near Kamloops, British Columbia (1985)

To me it really shows the sheer scale of how humans have altered the landscape in order to build settlements or industry and had complete disregard for the consequences. The landscape will now never be the same and in the image Homesteads #32 it is evident that the railway line will always be a constant feature in the landscape, it has left a scar – an imprint of where humans once were. Even when people move out of the area and nature starts to take over, there will always be evidence of our alterations.

I wanted to find out more about Burtynsky’s experiences and aims while photographing these sites as I believed it would  help me when photographing my own series. Therefore I watched a Ted Talk about his bodies of work which concern environmental and sustainability issues.  This talk really highlighted to me the depth of the issue regarding humans impacting on the environment and also the ways in which countries such as China are developing rapidly and the detrimental affect this is having on the environment. Although cities in the UK cannot be compared to the scale of mega cities such as Shanghai, the fundamental action of destroying agricultural land and habitats for development still remains the same.

In the talk Bertynsky explained how he wanted his photographs to “be able to engage the audiences of my work, and to come up to it and not immediately be rejected by the image. Not to say, “Oh my God, what is it?” but to be challenged by it — to say, “Wow, this is beautiful,” on one level, but on the other level, “This is scary. I shouldn’t be enjoying it.” Like a forbidden pleasure. And it’s that forbidden pleasure that I think is what resonates out there, and it gets people to look at these things, and it gets people to enter it”.

In addition to this, one of the points he made which interested me the most was that in building the Three Gorges Dam (Sandouping, China) the surrounding towns had to be destroyed and relocated. While building the new city of Wushan they did not include any parks or green spaces. They had the opportunity to rebuild the city from scratch and undo their previous mistakes of very high density sky scrappers but they did not. To me this showed the lengths humans would go to in order to develop and how little we think of the environment.


  • Burtynsky, E. (2013) Homesteads [online] available from http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/site_contents/Photographs/Homesteads.html [22nd January 2015]
  • McMichael Canadian Art Collection. (2013) Edward Burtynsky: The Landscape That We Change [online] available from http://www.mcmichael.com/adams-burtynsky/edward-burtynsky.html [22nd January 2015]
  • Ted Talk. (2005) Edward Burtynsky: Manufactured Landscapes and Green Education [online] available from http://www.ted.com/talks/edward_burtynsky_on_manufactured_landscapes [23rd January 2015]


Published by

Charlotte Pattinson

Photography student

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