Monday, May 5, 2008

"manufactured landscapes"

what i so love about Jennifer Baichwal's beautifully tragic film and Edward Burtynsky's disturbing yet aesthetically engaging images of industrial "landscapes" is the way in which both privilege a minimalist aesthetic, enabling the photographer's soul-crunching images -- alone -- to say what they (need to) say. the film thereby avoids condescending to audiences (with overdone narrative voiceover or too many title cards); instead, it invites its audience to consider and discover what Burtynsky's burnt-out industrial "landscapes" mean (w/r/t globalization and industrializaion) and thus creates a space in which the images do their rhetorical work absent overt direction. in this seemingly ambivalent space, viewers are likely drawn in by the strange beauty of the images even as they are disturbed in ways that perhaps initiate productive reflection, possibly, change. essentially, the film performs the difficult task of maintaining, even nurturing a productive affective tension rather than flogging it mercilessly in the name of rhetorical efficacy (i.e., control). in this way, Manufactured Landscapes aligns, at least partially, with an argument i have been making for a couple of years now, an argument about the context-specific primacy (not a secondary or tertiary nature) of visual communication as language, as rhetoric, as far more than what i have heard one prominent linguist/rhetorician call "mere stimulus."

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