SOME/IMAGE : 'MINES' BY EDWARD BURTYNSKY
The act of representing landscape isn't a new phenomenon, it's rather an old practice that extends back millennia to ancient cultures. This can be perceived as an activity for reasons of identification, story telling and remembrance. However, what is contemporary is the capturing of the land in an unnatural perpetual motion as a result of humans, advanced technology and machines. A relentless process of extraction for natural resources. Edward Burtynsky photograph series 'Mines', renders exactly this modern development on a large scale. Imagery that holds an inherent paradox of demolition and production, and progression and transgression.
Upon viewing and digesting the “Mines” images, there arises some unequivocal similarities and comparisons to be made with Aboriginal art. The drawing of the two together, provides compelling insight and a new dynamic to Burtynsky's work. Of course the visual vernacular and context is diverse between the two, as well as the mediums. One a traditional painting method and the other modern digital photography. However it is what they seek to and how they portray the same subject which brings their art into an extraordinary parallel. Namely, the subject matter of 'country' and specifically the Australian landscape. The correlations reach from formal qualities through to concern and content. The aerial view and colours of Burtynsky's photographs recalls the flatness of Aboriginal dot paintings and their use of the Australian landscape colour palette.
Burtynsky's series of photographs taken in 2007 of the Australian landscape, portray colossal mines that are located in the North-West of the country. These constructions lay outside of the vicinity of urban life and in a harsh and temperamental environment. The aerial photographs are seeped in these rich, earthy colours of ochres, oranges, umbers, oxides and chalky whites. Amongst the natural landscapes are signs of technology and mining activity, from the gaping holes and terracing, to the dispersion of roads like a river delta. The photographs act as a kind of topographical chart of the land, but if only ephemerally as they render a vision of an unnatural transformation.
Both place the viewer in the perspective of peering down from above. This evokes the quality of the unintelligible scale of the land, with neither all encapsulating. Such as in 'Silver Lake Operations 5#', showing only a slice of the mine, a single mine opening surrounded by roads that converge and disperse connecting to other areas. The aerial view evades great detail but rather encompasses and emphasizes scale, a reoccurring quality throughout Burtynsky's work. The vibrancy of earthy tones echoes the pigments used in Aboriginal dot paintings, such as the whites, reds, oranges that flourish in the Australian landscape. The qualities within the photograph combine to produce visually astounding sites, which are also shadowed by an essence of poignance. This evocation can be seen from the destruction of the terrain, especially when compared to the representation of country in Aboriginal art.
Furthermore, both communicate a story and a period of history to produce a type of documentary image. While, Aboriginal painting hones in dreamtime and ancestral stories from long ago, Burtynsky depicts what is the contemporary evolution of man. Aboriginal paintings also a depict sacred land sites, in a sense this becomes apparent too in Burtynsky's work. This can be seen in so far as considering why humanity does mine and the importance that is placed upon it and its production. It is undoubting to associate these colossal sites within a contemporary context, as core construction for what we can call modern life. No one can doubt that life as we know would not be how it is without a such thing. Their stature as a capitalist economic commodity grant them a prestigious position, a stimulant for humanities survival and progress. Of course this comes at a
price, as Burtynsky imagery shows the destruction of land and reciprocates our greed and appetite to extract from the earth. The sanctity of unaffected nature is no longer of value. Burtynsky depicts the touched by man while Aboriginal paintings depict the untouched environment. Aboriginal art communicates their platonic and spiritual connection and harmony to 'country', granting it's unaffected character as most important. To consider the comparisons between Aboriginal painting and Burtynsky photographs, seeks to enrich the understanding of the latter and the photographer's unmistakable theme. Burtynsky reveals our own vices, particularly our insatiable desire to extract from the land and without considering what the future consequences will be.