By Amy Frearson
The abstract landscapes depicted in the work of photographer Edward Burtynsky offer a frightening look at the extent of human impact on Earth, says Owen Hatherley.
I'm in a gallery looking at several enormous photographs, though it isn't clear that they are photographs, unless you look at the captions.
Some look like abstract expressionist paintings, swirls of paint dotted and dragged along a canvas, murky and intricate but completely without realism. But then I read the caption and it says "Phospor Tailings Pond #2, Polk County, Florida, USA, 2012", or "Dryland Farming #17, Monegros County, Aragon, Spain, 2011". And what looks like an art-brut rendering of a series of daggers is "Salt Pans #25, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India, 2016".
In just a couple of photographs, you can clearly see traces of familiar objects – cars parked amidst reservoirs in the graph-like constructivist image of "Pivot Irrigation/Suburb, South of Yuma, Arizona, USA, 2011", or the clearly visible, if diagrammatic, pattern of descending paddy fields in "Rice Terrace #4, Western Yunnan Province, China".
They all look pretty, at first. But when you try and piece together what you're seeing, and try to relate it to any landscape you know, they're frightening.
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