The exhibit consisted of a series of photographs tracking the life cycle of the petroleum industry, from extraction to refinement to consumption and petroleum culture, through to waste and recycling.
Images included photographs of tar sand fields in Alberta, oil pipelines running through pristine wilderness, oil refineries in Texas, landscapes filled with brand-new Volkswagens and massive airplanes, to corroded, broken down oil tankers and mountains of discarded tires.
The captions of Burtynsky’s works described “a new industrial geology,” asking the viewer to engage in “contemplations of the world reshaped by this massive energy source, and the
cumulative effects of the industrial evolution.” Burtynsky’s photographs were described as “analytical, envisioned from afar – as though through the eyes of an omniscient bird. His work captures a new sense of the sublime, not at the raw and untamed wilderness, but at the magnitude of human impact and its effects on the earth.
In my view, this is where the incredible quality of Burtynsky’s work comes from. The landscapes he photographs are, in many ways, repulsive and terrible;
Yet his photographs are not repellent, but beautiful. They confront us with the reality of our impact without being didactic. View his photographs creates a feeling of awe tinged with disgust, which is overwhelmed by the sheer aesthetic pleasure that his work evokes.