Analysis Of Edward Burtynsky's Photography

1838 Words Oct 12th, 2015 8 Pages
Although Edward Burtynsky’s photography has often been analyzed in relation to the sublime, this aesthetic framework does not account for all that his photography attempts to accomplish. In this paper I will first briefly assess some of recent writing that has positioned Burtynsky’s work in relation to different characterizations of the sublime, such as the toxic sublime. I will then analyze the historical underpinnings of what constitutes the sublime and its concurrent affects. Finally, I will examine why viewing the photographs of Oil solely in relation to the sublime is problematic.

This is because Burtynsky’s photographs do not just posit an incomprehensibly complex system of oil extraction, processing, and distribution, or present a solution to the problems inherent in fossil fuel use. Rather they ask the viewer to extend the frame of the photo to consider our embroilment in oil at both the personal and cultural level, to explore the open ended narratives of these places. While aspects of the sublime help elucidate Burtynsky’s work, the photographs in his series Oil ask for understanding on the viewer’s part rather than transporting the viewer to a state of pure awe and reverence at the sublime dimensions of these apparatuses.

Multiple critics have written about Burtynsky’s use of the sublime, including Amanda Boetzkes and Jennifer Peeples. Boetzkes examines how Burtynsky’s photography evokes nature, by way of the sublime, even when the subject is human accumulation…
Open Document