• Edward-burtynsky-hero2

    Edward Burtynsky: Highway #1, Intersection 105 & 110, Los Angeles, California, USA 2003 © Edward Burtynsky. Courtesy Nicholas Metivier, Toronto / Flowers, London

Photography

Oil be damned! The brand new Photographers' Gallery presents an epic Edward Burtynsky

Posted by Bryony Quinn,

The Photographers’ Gallery was the first independent space of its kind in Britain, so understandably its reopening in a new, tailored home is important to a very large and dedicated audience.

Twice the size of its former location, architects O’Donnel + Tuomey have made impressive structural gestures; aperture-like windows, “numerous links between exterior and interior” – a point taken up by the gallery’s director Brett Rogers who emphasised photography as “the most democratic art form” and was revelling in the excitement of getting the work outside and animating it. Inside there is an environmentally-controlled space for rare work and high-ceilinged galleries, generous in their potential for moving-image and large-format works. And setting off the space in excellent inaugural style is the huge – literally and metaphorically – chronicle of the oil industry by Edward Burtynsky.

“Not a day goes by when you don’t touch oil, not a minute,” he says. Of course he’s right, crude oil is refined to plastics, detergents, medicines, paints, synthetic fibres, petroleum and makes up an unimaginably large part of our personal landscapes – as well as the transport in which we move between them. In 1997 Burtynsky suffered/received an epiphany, an “oil ephinany”, that everything he had photographed, right down to the film he shot on, had been made possible by oil. It has moved us through time, fuelled our growth, sustained our lives and destroyed our natural habitat. The “arch of oil” as he refers to it, is presented in this exhibition in three chapters: Extraction and Refinement; Transportation and Motor Culture; and The End of Oil.

  • Edward-burtynsky-1

    Edward Burtynsky: Shipbreaking #13, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2000 © Edward Burtynsky. Courtesy Nicholas Metivier, Toronto / Flowers, London

  • Edward-burtynsky-6

    Edward Burtynsky: SOCAR Oil Fields #6, Baku, Azerbaijan 2006 © Edward Burtynsky. Courtesy Nicholas Metivier, Toronto / Flowers, London

  • Edward-burtynsky-5

    Edward Burtynsky: Oxford Tire Pile, #4, Westley, California, USA 1999 © Edward Burtynsky. Courtesy Nicholas Metivier, Toronto / Flowers, London

With regards to extraction, the effect on the landscape is as crude as the name suggests. Oil fields in California and Azerbaijan are captured with an extraordinary, “transfixing clarity” – the hundreds of pump-jacks hitting the horizons of such geographically disparate places share a simultaneous bleakness that feigns abandonment but belies the relentless pumping wells below the surface. Pipelines in the artist’s native Canada cut through the landscape with a steely geometry with their destination refineries a byzantine network of pipes and props that defy perspective and scale.

As with nearly all Burtynsky’s images, the perspective is not a human one and from our floating angle, the scene unfolds in complex and incomprehensible ways. Best exemplified in the Transportation chapter, we are presented with the panorama of what petrol makes possible. Cars, lots of them with even more people watching the cars, driving them and existing in-between the ribbon-like roads that connect and dissect a grand and very American landscape.

  • Edward-burtynsky-2

    Edward Burtynsky: Highway #1, Intersection 105 & 110, Los Angeles, California, USA 2003 © Edward Burtynsky. Courtesy Nicholas Metivier, Toronto / Flowers, London

  • Edward-burtynsky-7

    Edward Burtynsky: Oil Refineries #22, St. John, New Brunswick, Canada 1999 © Edward Burtynsky. Courtesy Nicholas Metivier, Toronto / Flowers, London

All of these images are large with a terrible sort of beauty; lakes like black mirrors reflect and refract the colour of the sky, bits of boats that stand like vast constructivist buildings as the shipbreakers of Bangladesh take what look like toothpicks to them, and islands of scaffold skyscrapers float exactly between the sea and sky.

The End of Oil, the exhibitions dramatic coda, is the most questioning and charged group of images as we are presented with the consequences of the industry. Scrap yards in Arizona, a “new automotive geology” are depicted as mountainous landscape of limbless aircraft, jet engines, impossible amounts of tyres and densified oil filters. Even more disturbing and more beautiful is the most recent works in the show, a god’s eye views of the 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as a slick of oil wasted the coast and covered the water with gleaming rips.

“Not a day goes by when you don’t touch oil, not a minute.”

Edward Burtynsky

Sat in its own waste, the failed rig that Burtynsky characterises as the “Frankenstein” of the trade, it’s “monsters all around it” is the most telling arch of the oil story, an “interesting metaphor for human overreach” he tells us as the humans responsible for harnessing this natural phenomena create and use technologies that they do not fully understand.

An effecting and totally memorable show, the artist’s afterword puts it in bleak but graspable language, the notions of one artist’s, “contemplations of a world reshaped by this massive energy force, and the cumulative effects of the industrial revolution” – bringing us right up to now, as we fight back the flames, politically, monetarily and literally, as they burn the last of the oil.

  • Photographers-gallery

    The Photographers’ Gallery at 16- 18 Ramillies Street 2012 © Kate Elliott Artist’s Impression of exterior signage to be completed mid May. Created by North

  • Photographers-gallery-3

    Installation image of Burtynsky: OIL by Edward Burtynsky on display at The Photographers’ Gallery until 1 July 2012 The Photographers’ Gallery, 5th Floor 2012 © Dennis Gilbert

  • Photographers-gallery-4

    Installation image of Burtynsky: OIL by Edward Burtynsky on display at The Photographers’ Gallery until 1 July 2012 The Photographers’ Gallery, 5th Floor 2012 © Dennis Gilbert

  • Photographers-gallery-5

    Installation image of Burtynsky: OIL by Edward Burtynsky on display at The Photographers’ Gallery until 1 July 2012 The Photographers’ Gallery, Barbara Lloyd Galleries (4th Floor) 2012 © Dennis Gilbert

Edward Burtynsky: Oil will be on show at The Photographers’ Gallery from May 19 to July 1.

Portrait9

Posted by Bryony Quinn

Bryony was It’s Nice That’s first ever intern and worked her way up to assistant online editor before moving on to pursue other interests in the summer of 2012.

Most Recent: Photography View Archive

  1. Tomas_werner_dolphins-int-list

    When Tim Berners Lee invented the internet, surely, SURELY he had images like these in mind. Perhaps he had loftier aims, but today this is the sort of thing we’re really after online: pictures of a small, cute, fluffy dog, sitting on things we don’t expect, shot beautifully. The man behind these images is Slovakian photographer Tomas Werner, who took more than 100 pictures of the little Pomeranian in Miami, which have now been drawn together in a book called A Handbook for Dog Walkers published by Gost.

  2. Laurel-golio-dancexplosion-int-list

    After Little Miss Sunshine I feel like the world of American pageantry is something I understand implicitly. Young girls travel the country with their drug-addled grandparents, suicidal uncles and mute brothers desperate to prove their worth as dancers, cheerleaders, singers and acrobats. I assumed that Laurel Golio’s series of photographs at Dance Xplosion might dispel these cinematic myths but it seems this is a fiercely competitive world of high drama and emotion. Laurel’s photos show just how much these kids, as well as their parents, are focussed on success, twerking, tapping and tangoing their way to middle American superstardom.

  3. Andreaslaszlokonrath-neilpatrickharris-int-list

    Photographer Andreas Laszlo Konrath hasn’t been on the site for far too long but there’s two good reasons to rectify that now. Firstly he’s just shot Josh Brolin for the new-look, newly biannual Port magazine and secondly because this year marks a decade since he upped sticks and moved to New York. Andreas has a diverse practice that flits between self-initiated projects and commissioned portraits and he’s equally confident working in either milieu. We’ve decided to focus on his celebrity shots here and his Port covers (both Josh Brolin and Sam Rockwell) are good places to start. There’s something unflinchingly intimate about the eye contact Andreas often captures (see also Ewan McGregor, Kendrick Lamar and a half-naked Neil Patrick Harris) but he’s no one-trick pony, and from Bryan Cranston peering into the middle distance to the top of David Byrne’s head, he has a real talent for making us feel connected to these stars in a very visceral way.

  4. Morganlevy-int-list

    The “commissioned” tab on Colorado-based photographer Morgan Rachel Levy’s website is a pretty diverse place. It spans a project about public schools, a series made in Ferguson following the shooting of Michael Brown and one collection about a map maker for Monocle among others, and nestled happily into the mix is this absolute stonker. 

  5. Farah-al-qasimi-int-list

    Photographer Farah Al Qasimi lives and works between Dubai and New York; her series The World Is Sinking depicts the areas of Dubai that prosperity forgets, all decayed McDonalds signs and bright murals surrounded by detritus. They’re great, I’m not sure if Farah uses high-saturation film or if Dubai is just consistently this sweet shade of saccharin – either way, I’m into it. She captures sand sculptures, bins and empty foyers with real aplomb. Farah graduated from Yale in 2012, and has since exhibited at Fotofest Abu Dhabi, New Yorks School of Visual Arts and the Meridian Art Center in Washington DC.

  6. List

    British photographer Carl Bigmore is living out a childhood obsession with the USA. The Londoner has just rounded off a project called Between Two Mysteries that’s seen him trawling the Pacific Northwest documenting the daily lives of its inhabitants; using personal pop culture references to contextualise the people he meets. “Since settlers followed the perilous Oregon Trail in search of prosperity in the 1800s,” he says, “the American imagination has left its imprint on the landscape. Oregon is forever haunted by the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining and its chilling analysis of the nation’s conflicted soul.”

  7. Gilesduley-legacyofwar-int-list

    A few months ago I had a beer with Giles Duley and conversation turned to what he was up to work-wise. He was relaxed, breezy even, when he told me he was hoping to launch a multi-faceted, multi-platform exploration of the ongoing effects of conflicts after they’ve supposedly ended. It sounded insanely ambitious; it also made whatever my professional plans were at the time seem pathetically puny. But on Friday, Giles’ project Legacy of War became a reality as it reached its £20,000 Kickstarter goal.

  8. Ohpearch-id-4-int_copy

    While casually knocking out impressive videos for Jungle, Oliver Hadlee Pearch has also been building up a fine portfolio of editorial photography. There’s a great atmosphere to his work; humour, poise and the impression that Oliver and his models have their tongues firmly in their cheeks. Even while performing incredible feats of synchronised dancing and photographing golden babes amongst Memphis furniture there’s an enviable sense of ease to his work, or rather confidence in the set-ups and their outcome. It’s refreshing to see someone with such a singular aesthetic running with it, and maintaining it so successfully.

  9. Avblp-ally-capellino-inty-list

    Fashion photographer Agnes Lloyd-Platt’s new lookbook for Ally Capellino’s SS15 campaign is an ode to bathroom dye jobs and co-ordinating your hair with your outfit colour at all times. She paired models with candy-coloured hair in all the best shades – peach, silvery grey, cobalt blue, and mint green – with accessories in corresponding colours.

  10. David-ryle-int-list-2

    It’s rare that mere mortal people can be made to look like superhumans without the aid of some fancy dress, but this series Skihopp (which is Norwegian for ski jump) by photographer David Ryle does it effortlessly. It follows a professional ski jumper as he ascends to the top of an impossibly high structure, pauses for a moment at the top to contemplate what he’s about to undertake, and then jumps, soaring effortlessly through the sky.

  11. Claudialegge-int-2

    Just off the coast of Cancun there is an area of ocean floor that has been transformed into a mysterious sculpture park. Aside from the occasional tourist and bull shark, it’s pretty deserted but for the stone figures scattered in the white sand, placed there by artist Jason deCaires Taylor back in 2009. Claudia Legge, a London-based photographer with a passion/addiction for shooting underwater, found out about this creepy tranquil sculpture park when she was in Mexico and wasted no time in getting below the surface with her camera to check it out. We spoke to her about the pretty breathtaking results of her dive, and the technical difficulties of doing such a shoot.

  12. Sophie-green-a-day-at-the-races-int-list

    “Rain, more rain, drunk people, high people, drum ’n bass, dodgy hair, flat caps, tattoos, gold chains, piercings, sun shine, tank tops, topless chests, slush puppies, hot dogs, chips, chicks, fast cars, pimped out cars, racer boy heaven…”

  13. Ash-thayer-kill-city-int-list-3

    New York City in the early 1990s was dramatically different to how we know it now, if Ash Thayer’s new book Kill City is anything to go by. The Lower East Side was overrun with derelict buildings and dingy corners, and having been kicked out of her Brooklyn apartment Ash came across a welcoming community at a squat called See Skwat. As publisher PowerHouse explains, in that era “squatters took over entire buildings, but these structures were barely habitable. They were overrun with vermin, lacking plumbing, electricity, and even walls, floors, and a roof. Punks and outcasts joined the squatter movement and tackled an epic rebuilding project to create homes for themselves.”