portraits of destruction – images of beauty

When does a photographic portrait of destruction / destructive behaviour cross a line into glory thereby losing its specificity (i.e. context, detail and history – future and past): An image of Alberta’s tar sands becomes a piece of art, on which we can wash away our guilt because “we saw and read about the exhibition” or “we buy our groceries with reusable bags”; a photojournalist is sanctified for their dedication to documenting some of many world brutalities, their subjects often nameless exposing their bodies without choice.

There is nothing ultimately wrong or right about these images, but awareness of what gets lost in-between a glorious gesture or an unbelievable landscape, I believe, becomes a conscious step towards discussion and knowledge production.

Below are images by photographer’s Edward Burtynsky and Chris Jordon. Burtynsky’s photography, captures destructive human processes resulting in consumable product. Reflecting on his own images Burtynsky says they’re “meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear” (click on statement/bio via mainpage). No stance is particularly evident on whose lifestyles these large scale exploration / production endeavors benefit and whose lifestyles they may destroy (i.e. workers in dangerous jobs, polluted waters of nearby communities). Is this his responsibility? Maybe it is enough that his unbelievably beautiful images spark discussion?

Oil Fields #22 Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, 2001

Context and contrast is given through collections of images. One image in Burtynsky’s Oil exhibition shows workers ankle deep in oil sludge, surrounded by black-coated barrels. Another image shows an aerial view of Los Angeles highways, their interlocking and layered highways creating a magnificent pattern.

The activism present in Chris Jordan’s images are undeniable and don’t require commentary to be evident. They are the dead bodies of baby albatrosses. Towards their centres are a collection of plastic bits and pieces. These plastic remnants almost look as if they’ve been cautiously and purposefully placed – a mini art-piece. But they haven’t. The babies died with a belly full of plastic.

On his website Jordan also links to a blog documenting the documentary process of the lifecycle of Albatross’s at a Pacific Ocean atoll where currents collide depositing the worlds various wastes. There is mourning and homage in these images but also beauty through the combination of colourful plastic and dried out bone.


About erin bosenberg

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