Edward Burtynsky - Watermark

I've just finished watching Edward Burtynsky's movie 'Watermark' which came out in 2013. So it's not a new release by any stretch of the imagination, but it's new to me :-)

For those of you who have never heard of Burtynsky, he is a photographic documenter of the large-scale environmental impact that us humans are having on our world. His images are startling documents of environmental scale and very much worth checking out by buying some of his beautifully printed monographs.

I'm keen on many avenues of photography, not just 'landscape', but also reportage and documentary style work. Edward Burtynsky has the uncanny knack of creating amazing landscape work which is art in its own right, but is very much geared towards the environment and letting us into a few secrets of just how large scale we are modifying our world. Scale is the word that keeps coming to mind.

This documentary is beautifully filmed and it left me with a new appreciation of water. Just how vital it is to our survival but also just how much it is being manipulated and redirected. Creating dams in California has had disastrous consequences for the areas where the water was diverted from. Looking at modern china, we are able to see the massive scale of dam creation and how much this is changing our landscape. 

His documentary is really a lament to the natural world. This documentary really shows just how much we are shaping and re-creating our world. It is only the beginning, and indicator of the things to come. Nature has it's own processes and its own way of working. Each time we influence it, we may benefit in some ways but we lose in others through a lack of deeper understanding of just how much it is going to cost in the future. But most of all, this documentary shows that we have no handle, no overseeing jurisdiction on how much our world should be reshaped. We just go about our business each day hoping that someone else is looking after our world for us, but through the scale of Edward's photographs, I no longer feel comfortable with the mass adaption of our land.

Pitting your ego against the climate

Murray Fredericks reminds me of myself far too much. Whilst watching his 28 minute movie about photographing lake Eyre in Australia, I saw not only a landscape that is very close to what I have experienced on the salt flats of the Bolivian Alitplano, but also a photographer obsessed by the same thoughts that I often have during my trips to remote places.



I love large vast expanses of 'nothingness'.  I'm enthralled by the Salar de Uyuni salt flat of the Bolivian Altiplano in the same way that Murray is captivated by lake Eyre. You should definitely watch this movie. His images are absolutely worth waiting for the very end of the movie for.

I saw so many parallels with my own experiences whilst watching this movie.

For example, Murray notices that after a short while the exotic nature of his landscape tends to subside. This is something I've experienced and I tend to find I can only truly understand a place I've been to, once I'm back home. It seems that being home gives me a reference point, one where I can consider and notice the contrasts to where I have just been.

He also notices in his movie just how the smallest of noises like the sound of brushing his teeth seem to be amplified.  This also goes for his thoughts. He finds that it's all too easy to get stuck in some mad part of his brain and before he know it, he's digging himself into a downward spiral. I know this, because big empty spaces do this to you - they act as a massive reflective board that just bounces all the stuff that's going in in your mind right back at you.

You can't go somewhere where there is nothing to occupy your mind if you have issues. Issues just get amplified. I was speaking to a good friend of mine who lives in the Lofoten Islands and I was telling her about an american photographer that I know, who would love to move there. She said to me 'it's not for everyone, all this space and silence tend to amplify any issues that you have'. It seems that going somewhere with a lot of space doesn't give you a chance to run away from your problems - it just gives them a platform for them to stare right at you.

Murray also notices memories that surface - of people he hasn't known for years. I found this to be the case also. During my very first photographic outing to Iceland back in 2004, I spent a month in a tent, often for days on my own. I found this time to be extremely cathartic for me - it was a time in my life where I'd never had the luxury to have so much time to consider and reflect with no distractions. I felt I had a bit of a mental clear-out. I found my mind returning to thoughts of old school friends that I had lost touch with decades ago. It was surprising for me to find myself thinking about people I'd thought I'd forgotten about, and events that I didn't know I still had memories of. I considered later that these thoughts are always present, but they get buried under the noise of everyday life.

But the biggest message of this movie is this: you can't force things to go your way.

Murray says at one point that he wishes the landscape would cooperate with what he want's to get out of it and realises that all he's doing is pitting his ego against the climate.

So often I feel that as photographers, most of us turn up somewhere and try to 'will it' to be something that it's not and when it doesn't live up to our expectations, we become discouraged.

Photography is not about forcing things. Nor is it about deciding what it should be and discarding it if it doesn't conform to our wishes.

Photography is really the act of submission. It's about seeing the beauty in what's there and working with what you're given. You'll have more chance of capturing something if you're open to whatever comes your way, rather than hoping for something specific.

This is a really great short-film. I'll be watching it again and again, just for the philosophical observations. But if that's not for you, then watch it at least for the very stunning wondrous photographs towards the end.

So Iconic, when we look, we don't 'see' them any more

A few days ago, a friend of mine emailed me about Mike Stimpson's lego images of iconic photographs. I thought they were terrific, and wanted to share them with you all.


Some of these should be very familiar to you as they are interpretations of well known global images. Images so powerful that we all know them, and yet, we rarely know the photographer behind them.

Such images have a potency - they are instantly recognisable, even when made from lego. Others, are perhaps less well known, unless you have an avid interest in historic photography, such as these:


On a creative level, these have been really wonderful to discover. My friend emailed me with the title 'best photography ever', and I think in some ways, he's right. I found them very clever and immensely enjoyable to view. What Mike Stimpson has done, is demonstrate that with a bit of inventiveness, we can create something fresh.


Similarly to the post earlier this week about Vivaldi's Four Seasons, I feel, what Mike Stimpson has done for me, is reignite my interest and love for images that have become so well known to me, that I don't really 'see' them anymore.


  Through his love for lego and photography, he has create a visual dialogue - one in which we are asked to revisit the original work with a new found sense of  enquiry and inquisitiveness.