Edward Burtynsky: Oil

This work is an epic story whose main subject has the most lasting impact on our lives. From 1997 to 2009 Edward Burtynsky traveled through the world to tell the story of Oil, from its extraction, to the mechanics of its distribution, to the effects on man’s lives and on the nature. These photographs aim at the discovery, exploitation, and celebration of this vital natural resource, even stepping into a critical and ambiguous territory, when they portrait the human, natural and industrial landscapes altered through its use.

Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.

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.”

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