Monday, October 12, 2009

And On the Other Hand...

On Friday, I posted an interview with Ed Burtynsky, including his take on how he might respond to people in the petro industry who feel worried about his current decade-long project on oil.

Today, I also wanted to note Burtynsky's response to an "on the other hand..." question I posed to him—one that requests his reaction to those who find his work too ambiguous, or not critical enough of the oil industry or other industries. This response didn't make it into the published interview, but here it is:

Q: On the other hand, people who are very conscious of environmental issues might say that you're not critical enough of the oil industry or other industries in your photography. How would you respond?

A: As an artist, I think that the power in a work is often times when the meaning is not fixed. If I go out there and say "this is a critique against the oil industry, period, there's no ifs, ands, or buts..." then, in a way, the work doesn’t have a chance to become a point of departure for a kind of sobering, honest conversation about something that exists in our world.

I call [more critical] work photojournalism and more politically based. Of course, we’re all political beings and there's politics in everything, I’m not kidding myself. But at the same time with I think that the work has this ability to form its meaning differently in different people’s minds. And I’m not necessarily against that. I think if it creates dialogue and it makes people think, from the CEO down to the workers, that's good thing.

Also, I'm not being na├»ve. I know this thing [the oil sands] is going to proceed. The question now is how is it going to proceed. Will it proceed at status quo? If that happens I think everyone should have a problem with that. It’s not a left or a right issue. It’s a Canadian issue.

Image is Ed Burtynsky's Oil Fields #19, Belridge, California, 2003 (a & b) from Nicholas Metivier Gallery

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