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Oil Fields

December 29, 2008 - June 29, 2009

Of all of the indus­tries that Ed Burtynsky has inves­tigated over the years (mining, quarrying, manufac­tur­ing, shipping, recycling), none is more important than that of oil. Operating by the strength of its own prod­uct as well as making all oth­ers pos­sible, the oil indus­try is the corner­stone of our society in more ways than we often consider. But as the exhaustion of the earth's oil reserves becomes a real pos­sibility, these images rep­resent a present and pos­sible future of the oil indus­try. Discovered in 1911, the Belridge oil fields shown in Oil Fields 9a & 9B, Belridge, California, with their orderly rows of pumps like predatory crea­tures, is esti­mated to still con­tain more than 500 million barrels of oil. By con­trast, the SOCAR oil fields, near Baku, Azerbaijan, are mostly abandoned, leav­ing behind a dev­astated, toxic landscape. As a move towards other energy sources becomes more and more nec­essary, what will hap­pen to the vast areas of the earth which have been transformed in order to supply us with all the oil we want?

Burtynsky intends his images to "search for a dia­logue between attraction and repul­sion, seduction and fear", while explor­ing the intricate connection between indus­try and nature. At a time when this relation­ship is increas­ingly scru­ti­n­ised, Burtynsky's images take us to places that we might not oth­er­wise see, their strange beauty forc­ing us to keep looking, and start think­ing.


Born in 1955 in St. Catharines, Ontario, Edward Burtynsky is one of Canada's most respected photog­ra­phers. His work is in the col­lections of major muse­ums around the world, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Bib­lio­thèque Nationale in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum in New York, and has been exhib­ited in solo and group exhi­bi­tions across Canada and around the world.

The recipi­ent of many international awards, Burtynsky’s dis­tinctions include the TED Prize, the Rencon­tres d’Arles Out­reach award, and the Roloff Beny Book award. In 2007 he was awarded the title Offi­cer of the Order of Canada.