OIL – an exhibition by Edward Burtynsky

The first exhibition at the newly opened Photographer’s Gallery is called Oil and is a series of large landscape style images; the subject is Oil and the landscapes it gives rise to. Not all images are of land however as a massive heap of road tyres demonstrates.

The exhibition is about the “life cycle” of oil from the place where it is extracted and the impact that it has on the environment towards it’s inevitable demise.

Photographs of oilfields such as those from California and Alberta inform one of a phenomena of which most of us are not fully aware.

The images in this exhibition are presumably made with a large format camera; they are excellently printed with attention to detail although the colour seems a little saturated at times.

His subjects are made creatively so that an oil refinery can be represented by a mass of pipes.

Another photo is of a Volkswagen Lot, a massive car park in Houston, Texas where some 1,0000 cars are represented.

Another photo from 2004 is of Nanpu Bridge Interchange, Shanghai in which one can see a number of levels with cars passing by, while in the background there is a cityscape.

Another photo is of a speedway in which the size of the crowd is emphasised.

My impression of the exhibition is really one of a succession of large extremely striking prints covering a range of subjects relating to oil; they are documentary photographs with artistic appeal.

Liz Wells talked extensively on the subject. She points out that his exhibition prints are matt; the images draw in the viewer with their beauty but the subject matter keeps the viewer at a distance. They are seductive yet allow the viewer to contemplate the scenes depicted.

“Epic” is how I might describe this body of work!




Burtynsky is an Eco Hero Award Winner!

“Good art does not have a fixed meaning!”

Suggestion that his work is political – he’s not trying to force a particular view point on people; different people will read the photographs differently. No one way to read his images!

Considers the politicisation of the environment as dangerous

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