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on Oil

Original Photos: Burtynsky, E. (2009). Oil. 33-37. Steidl Publishers. Germany.

Kendra Scanlon


Family photos help to uncloud the haze of a life time of experiences. They rebuild our foundations and push us to remember who we are and the values we were raised on. In contrast, the photographs in Burtynsky’s Oil isolate the viewer, raising them up to the position of the voyeur who is increasingly in awe of, but detached from, the world we look upon. In both cases we struggle to understand where we fit in due to matters of scale (being unable to imagine oneself so small), matters of time (relying on signatures to place us), and matters of placelessness (frames without name or context). The act of laying childhood photos across Burtynsky’s work begins to intersect spatial and temporal realms in an uncomfortable confrontation.Our being must come face to field with the development of these landscapes through the act of tracing our childhood to that extractive industry core to our family histories. The vast industrial landscape becomes deeply personal. As second generation children of oil we begin to ask not only how we have shaped industry, but how industry has shaped us.