Issue #66  1/6/2004
Books and Catalogues

Before The Flood, Photographs by Edward Burtynsky: exhibition catalogue from the Robert Koch Gallery

Manufactured Landscapes, Photographs by Edward Burtynsky, Yale University Press

By Sean Connolly

The content of Edward Burtynsky's photographs of the earth's face are industrial tattoos and dynamic scarification left by mankind blind to its fate. Burtynsky's photographs of quarries, dams, rail cuts, ship breaking and other massive projects done in the name of industry and wealth show us something voluptuous. They hit the eye with a luxurious play of color. And this from what was originally a black and white photographer.

Both catalogue and book, present us with histories of events still wide open as seen through the eyes of a documentary artist who turns the formal Black &White into a dominant Chrome & White splendidly apt for each image. So, it is rust and white on the beach in Bengal where the ships are torn apart. Alabaster and white at the quarries, or make that ebony and white, or opal and white, or sarcophagus white on pale lime on the floodplain, which is soon to hold the lake generated by the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China.

The temptation to describe this opulent opera for the eye is too great to continue. The text in the catalogues does this more than sufficiently. The authors begin by wringing their hands about all the environmental consequences of our lust for feeding and breeding and parading ourselves. Burtynsky simply says we are momentary and place is eternal, immutable. This is a poet talking. He shows us this evidence of Man.

This comes out in the interview with Michael Torosian, a Toronto photographer, in Manufactured Landscapes, and I never once felt lectured or dizzy from any of the abstract talk about form and content. It all began in a place called Frackville, PA where Burtynsky had wandered off the highway and found himself surrounded by mountains of slag and a pool of vivid green. A Canadian, he went back north looking for other such eerie landscapes.

The curators Lori Pauli and Mark Haworth-Booth, and the art critic Kenneth Baker, add historical perspective in Manufactured Landscapes, tracing Burtynsky's provenance through various landscape painters and photographers, and although they place him in the realm of those deemed profound, astonishing, brilliant and breathtaking, they can't shake the destruction and devastation the subjects of his photographs leave in their hearts. Too bad. But, then again, the quarries and mining projects are massive. And so are the photographs, but nowhere is their size given in Manufactured Landscapes, and given bare mention in Before the Flood - some of the images as large as 50 x 120 inches.

Before The Flood, a publication of Robert Koch Gallery, 35 pages in color, in a soft cover format ($25) is available from the Robert Koch Gallery at 415-421-0122 or by email at info@KochGallery.com .

Manufactured Landscapes is the exhibition book for the touring show of the same name appearing at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, January 24 to April 4, 2004 and at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in the Fall of 2005. A hardcover published by Yale University Press ($55), 160 pages, containing 56 four-color plates. Available at many bookstores and through Robert Koch Gallery.

Sun Pictures, Catalogue Twelve

By Maria Connolly

The exhibition Etchings of Light: Talbot and Photogravure, hosted by Hans Kraus has come and gone, but what remains is yet another valuable contribution to the history of photography in the form of Sun Pictures, Catalogue Twelve. Dr. Larry J. Schaaf brings his expertise to the subject of Talbot and Photogravure in this richly illustrated 69 page addition to Kraus' series of Sun Pictures catalogues.

Larry Schaaf's essay and accompanying notes to the illustrations introduces us to an unfamiliar title given to Henry Fox Talbot: the father of the photogravure. It seems that no sooner than Talbot invented photography he began experimenting with better ways of mass-producing photographic images that would replace 'silver's fatal flaw' with printing inks. Schaaf points out that Talbot's interest in printing processes seems " fitting, for throughout his life Talbot displayed a passion for the world of books, printing, and publishing. Indeed, he personally placed the real value of his invention of photography within the domain of publishing, a perception especially apparent in his bold and provocative 1844 The Pencil of Nature." Schaff continues on to demonstrate not only Talbot's dual interests but also the symbiotic history of the two new mediums.

The illustrations are a virtual treasure trove for historians and of paramount interest to collectors of early photography and early processes. They include not only facsimiles of seminal pages from an 1878 book on photography, text by Talbot himself, hand written letters, early photogenic drawings and salt prints from calotype negatives, but engravings of collaged test patches and prophetic experimental printings of layers of gauze and crepe (more than intimations of the half tone screen) as well as an array of exquisite engravings from nature the like of which will make any collector long to caress with the naked eye.

The catalogue is available from Hans Kraus, Jr. and some museum bookstores for $30. Kraus can be reached at 212-794-2064 or by email at info@sunpictures.com .