Teachers Lesson Plans

Drawing With Light

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Edward Weston, Shell and Rock Arrangement, 1931, printed before July 1969 and Edward Burtynsky, Mines #15, Inco Tailings Pond, Sudbury, Ontario, 1985

How does each photographer approach the landscape?

Edward Weston was most at home in the natural landscapes of California and the American West. He photographed landscapes from the time he first used a camera in 1902. Edward Burtynsky photographs in some of the largest industrial sites in the world. Industrial landscapes have been his focus since 1981.

The low vantage point in Weston’s photograph focuses attention on the shell. Burtynsky chooses a high vantage point to emphasize the vast expanse of the landscape. The lighting in both images is even. Both images are also stunningly sharp, from the foreground to the distance. Weston uses these elements to define form and capture the essence of his subject – a “still-life outdoors.” By contrast, Burtynsky uses them to transform an industrial site into a metaphor for human activity. There is a tension in Burtynsky’s work between the beauty of the forms and colours and the subject matter – an industrialized landscape. The tension in Weston’s work is purely formal.

Both photographs were taken with large-format cameras, allowing the photographers to compose the final image on the ground glass. Weston contact-printed his negative. Burtynsky’s negative was enlarged.