Manufacturing: Striking Burtynsky Images on Working Conditions in China


In the southern province of Guangdong, one can drive for hours along numerous highways that reveal a virtually unbroken landscape of factories and workers’ dormitories.

These new ‘manufacturing landscapes’ in the southern and eastern parts of China produce more and more of the world’s goods and have become the habitat for a diverse group of companies and millions of busy workers. Pick up almost any commonly used product and you won’t be surprised to find that it was made in China. It is here that 90 per cent of your Christmas decorations are made, 29 per cent of color television sets, 75 per cent of the world’s toys, 70 per cent of all cigarette lighters and probably every T-shirt in your closet. The hard drive for your iPod mini was made in the city of Guiyang (Guizhou). Located in China’s poorest province, Guiyang is more noted for its poverty than for making state-of-the-art one-inch hard drives. Working the assembly lines, China’s youthful peasant population is quickly abandoning traditional extended-family village life, leaving the monotony of agricultural work and subsistence income behind for a chance at independence.

Inexpensive labor from the countryside, important as it is to China’s growth as a trading nation, is one major facet of its success. Just as important is a rising industrial production capability. China now plays a central role in the global supply chain for the world’s multinational corporations. Wal-Mart alone outsourced $15 billion US in manufacturing, making the company (if it were a country) China’s eighth largest trading partner. Altogether, nearly half of China’s foreign trade is tied to foreign invested enterprises in China. This investment stimulated managerial, organizational and technical expertise that China has fully integrated into its business model. Since the early 1990s, more than one-half trillion U.S. dollars have flowed into this country’s manufacturing sector, mainly from its Asian neighbors; Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Singapore and then additionally from North America and Europe. China has moved up the manufacturing ladder and today exports an increasingly sophisticated array of products. Its manufacturing future rests not just in being able to absorb technology but also in becoming an innovator and a source for new technology.

Edward Burtynsky

Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in Edward Burtynsky work. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis. These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. Edward Burtynsky has an impressive cv. He won many awards and honors (Planet in Focus Media/Industry Eco-Hero Award ; ICP Infinity Award, Art category, International Center of Photography, New York ; Prix Pictet, London, U.K., Nomination & Short Listed, 3 honorary degrees, Officer of the Order of Canada, TED prize, etc). Edward Burtynsky is known as one of Canada's most respected photographers. His remarkable photographic depictions of global industrial landscapes are included in the collections of over fifty major museums around the world, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.