Photography and Art

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Industrial Landscapes

It has been awhile. I've been going through a stressful time of changing jobs (again) and haven't been in the mood to write.

Things are starting to resolve, so here goes a new post:

My daughter has a Scottish boyfriend, Ben, who works at Poscor, Canada's second largest re-cycling company. Ben is an avid amateur photographer, although he is a misguided individual who prefers Nikon to Canon. I guess he just likes soft lenses :-)

Ben was kind enough to invite me to tour the Poscor site. Re-cycling companies have been photographed by some famous photogs, including Edward Burtynsky. If you visit his site, navigate to the urban mines section of his works to see photographs of Poscor. In fact, the one entitled Densified Scrap Metal 3a is hanging on the wall of the Poscor office boardroom.

The day we visited was rather overcast, but it was bright enough to get some nice light on the subject without the harsh glare of direct sunlight. We did a tour of the Poscor yards in a pick-up truck, stopping every now and then to see the big machines at work processing scrap metal.

Poscor is a scrap re-cycling exchange. The company finds sellers of scrap (e.g. junkyards, auto plants) and buyers of scrap (e.g. steel companies). If possible, it merely gathers scrap from the source and re-distributes it to the buyer, collecting a fee in the process. Sometimes, the buyer requires that the scrap metal be processed, usually by chopping it into smaller chunks. This is done using several different techniques, ranging from sophisticated mechanised methods to manual brute force.

The most interesting machine on the lot is the shredder. This behemoth takes flattened car bodies as its raw material and uses a spinning rotor with huge hammers to pound the car bodies into shrapnel. The small pieces are then separated into steel and non-steel, with the steel being shipped to a local mill for re-cycling.

Great photographers don't work by taking a quick trip around the lot in a pick-up truck, getting out occasionally to snap off a few shots like I did. I'm told that Burtynsky spends a week or so in a location scouting out subject matter and shooting angles, then waits for the light to be perfect for realizing his vision.

Nevertheless, I did get a half dozen shots that would pass for Burtynsky photos if you squinted from a distance and didn't look too carefully at the colour balance. Here is a selection:

Large Metal Bales

Assorted Sprockets

Mountain of Junk

Old Parts

Bales of Wire

The Gears


  1. Fascinating - I cannot decide whether to go down a photography or a painting route. I dislike intensely the chocolate box school of painting "scenery" and am drawn towards an abstract view of art and mankind as a prime maker of it. This set of photos get very near to the work I am thinking about. Thank you.

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