I travel to China often and it's evident that the country is going through unprecedented growth and urbanization. Think of the Western industrial revolution, which took over 100 years to fully become the force on society that we see in hindsight. China is jetting through a similar transformation but in only 20 years.
Edward Burtynsky's pictures of China capture the strange landscapes that occur when traditional rural life gives way to massive modernization. What is captured in his photos is the dilemma of China's entry into the realm of Superpower: that as we reach for a better life, the world suffers, and many of the people whose labor pushes us upward suffer as well.
If you haven't sen Manufactured Landscapes, Burtynsky's documentary of his work in China, you should rent it (Netflix!). Here's a statement from the artist:
These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire - a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.