Edward Burtynsky: “Silver Lake Operations #14, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia”
Published: April 6, 2011
This struck me because when I walked into the gallery, and I’m sure this was intentional, it looks like an abstract painting and I thought, “That’s weird—what’s this doing here?” And moving from about 30 feet away to three inches away, you keep seeing more and more and more detail. As you move closer, you go from noticing the color and compositional details to noticing the mining operation and the stripped-away earth and the waste water at the corner. And you really have to be almost right up against it to see what’s going on and understand what you’re looking at.
I tend to be attracted to work that’s not like what I do, and I don’t think I could execute something like this very well—which may be why I’m so into it. If I see something similar to what I do I start to be too analytical about it, finding myself thinking too much about how I would do it differently. It’s sort of like when you understand a great deal about cinematography, it can make watching movies not as awesome as it was before.
This is something, though, that I can’t even fathom. And I’ve seen work like this done before, but here [in this exhibition], there’s not much else like it. And when I’ve seen work like this, the camera is typically squarely on the mining operation, coming more from a purely documentary idea. But here, that part is off to the side and you have to walk into it—you have to approach it and look down and over to get a sense of the entire picture he’s asking you to look at.
And it’s obviously composed with that process in mind. For me, from a distance, it’s one of the most instantly compositionally attractive shots in the whole exhibit—the other being the Rineke Dijkstra—but as you move closer, it reveals itself to be terrifying. He wants you to come to that realization of what it is at the end. It makes you think of your complicity in all this—people mine coal so I can have my iPod and whatever else. And it’s very impressive to see a photographer work with so many multiple levels. The scale of this is just incredible.
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