Saturday, March 29, 2008

Manufactured Landscapes

I have included images in this piece because I want everyone too see the importance of imagery in conveying context. A chinese man whose photo was taken at the three gorges dam commented "It's a very broad view. It's hard to see the detail." And I think this comment was more relevant to our context halfway around the world, than the image itself. So I have included the images to provide a little detail behind your personal belongings.

This image is of a shipbreaking shore in Chittagong, Bangladesh. It is part of the movie and Edward Burtynsky's work - showing what happens to our oil tankers. We see them manually disassembled in the film and the 18-20 year old men who scrape the leftover crude from the bottom. I got the image from the article I linked for this entry.

I would like to thank Dr. Webber for giving us this assignment because I've wanted to watch this film since last semester and never got around to it. It's fantastic and I highly recommend it. The trailer is a little doomsday, so see relevant clips here. Just ignore the creepy music in it and the film.

A quote by the photographer explains the point of the film best:
"There are times when I have thought about my work and putting it into a more politicized environment. If I said "this is a terrible thing we are doing to the planet", then people will either agree or disagree. By not saying what you should see, that may allow them to look at something they have never looked at and see their world a little differently. So I think many people today sit in that uncomfortable spot, where we do not necessarily give up what we have, but we realize what we're doing is creating problems that run deep. It's not a simple right or wrong, it needs a whole new way of thinking."

The film begins with 7 minutes of silence as a camera strafes the length of a manufacturing and assembly plant. You see the chinese workers, and the succession of manual labor that goes behind our irons and fans.

The film then moves from a newly assembled iron to a piece of iron scrap metal in an enormous pile of scrap metal. Workers are sorting the waste and being berated for laziness. We then see beautiful mosaics of beer cans compressed into neat cubes.

The point of these images is to show how massive the manufacturing and waste services of China is. How these operations are mostly manual labor, because it's so cheap. And most importantly, as Burtynsky tells us that 50% of the worlds computers end up in China, that you and I are responsible for it. Our e-waste is taken apart by the Chinese people for valuable scrap and the toxic materials inside have permanently ruined their water tables.

The image is from

Next, the film moves onto the energy that drives China's development as the world's scapegoat (my own opinion.) Burtynsky recounts when he was driving and realized that oil not only powered his car, but went into his plastic steering wheel, the paints, and manufacturing of the glass. Oil, he says, "is the key building block of the last century." It allows us "mobility and freedom." Now that China is the manufacturer of the world, it will have a very different energy footprint. "How long will they be able to sustain?"

Not sustain it.

How long will they sustain?

Some facts from the film: Coal plants are built weekly in China and 27 Nuclear plants are planned over the next 10 years.

The biggest proof of the importance of energy is the Three Gorges Dam. It will include 26 700,000 kW generators and 6 back-up generators, capable of producing 84.7 billion kWh/year.

To build this dam, 1,100,00 people were relocated. We see them in the film, hired to tear down their own homes and cities and rebuild them out of the way.

The film makes me wonder about the importance of growth and production, energy and materials, over people. But most importantly, it reveals that this importance is something we all share responsibility for and that takes place every day, everywhere.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks like a great movie. We blame China for polluting when they manufacture all of our products and then ship our waste back to them and complain when it leaks out.