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Where Nature Meets Man

Where Nature Meets ManIn an exhibit at the Tufts University Art Gallery, Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky captures the 21st century transformation of China.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.20.07] For China, the 21 st century has been marked by economic, political and cultural changes. In 20 large images, world-renowned Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky captures the booming development the country has experienced over the past decade.

“Like their subject, they’re very big,” The Boston Globe wrote about Burtynsky’s photographs, which comprise “The China Series,” an exhibit currently on display at the Tufts University Art Gallery. Each about four feet by five feet, the images are grouped into four categories: "Urban Renewal,""Recycling," Manufacturing" and "Dam”—a collection of photographs focused on the Three Gorges Dam, a construction project in China aimed at controlling the flow of the Yangtze River.

The major theme of Burtynsky’s work, he explains on his website, is “nature transformed through industry.” He calls his images “reflecting pools of our times,” adding that “our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction.” He says his photographs “are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence.”

In “The China Series,” Burtynsky’s metaphors include dump trucks at a Three Gorges work site and a welder disassembling a piece of machinery. The photographs’ simple titles, “Feng Jie #6” and “Recycling #2, Cutter,” suit them well, noted the Globe. The images, according to the newspaper, speak for themselves.

Shot in color, Burtynsky’s photographs project a sense of “immediacy,” according to the Globe. While black-and-white images place their subjects on “a visual pedestal,” the newspaper reported that “his use of color works to foreshorten his images, humanizing his subject matter.” The Globe added, “It’s disorienting, too, making for fabulous tableaus that are alternately alluring and toxic.”

In "Recycling #8, Plastic Toy Parts," the heap of parts “would be a massive lump of odd, inexplicable shapes,” without color, according to the Globe. “In color, it's revelatory: the dump as phantasmagoria,” the newspaper reported.

Similarly, color lends itself to "Manufacturing #17, Deda Chicken Processing Plant,” in which “The many pink-clad workers … merge to form a chrysanthemum sea of humanity.”

Other strengths of Burtynsky’s work, according to the Globe, are his attention to detail and his ability to tell a compelling story without using words.

“The workers aren't so many extras on grandiose stages. They're real people, doing real jobs, living real lives,” the Globe reported. “In that sense, Burtynsky puts his very considerable skills at the service of journalism as well as aesthetics. Splendid as art, ‘The China Series’ is essential as documentation.”

“The China Series” will be on display at the Tufts University Art Gallery through April 1.

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