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Plastic Deformation

by Ruth Slavid
This intriguing patchwork quilt is a photograph taken near Almeria in southern Spain, by renowned Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. Known for his large-format images of industrial landscapes, Burtynsky groups his work into series, and this image comes from the agriculture section of his ‘Water’ series. 
He writes ‘Agriculture represents – by far – the largest human activity upon the planet. Approximately seventy percent of all fresh water under our control is dedicated to this activity.’ This photograph – beautiful but of an ugly place – belies any idea that agriculture is necessarily ‘natural’. 
The hot climate of the area made it a pioneer of ‘plastication’ and one of the densest users of it, creating a landscape for producing early fruit and vegetables. Commercially the area has been hugely successful but at a cost in terms of pollution, amenity and the treatment of migrant workers. Burtynsky’s photograph shows that the demands of commercial agriculture may not merely have an impact on, but can transform, a landscape. 

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