Petroleum Planet

Article excerpt

The fish, famously, doesn't know it's in water. Our relationship to petroleum is much the same. From our waking moments we are surrounded by oil: It helps grow the grains in our breakfast cereal, takes us to and from work, forms the plastics that wrap our products, and then delivers those very same items to us. Oil has become the sine qua non of our lives. And for that reason it's so easy to forget that's it's even there.

Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky wants to remind us. Burtynsky has spent most of his career focusing on the landscapes of manufacturing complexes, creating formal compositions of industrial scenery that are at once attractive and abhorrent. His latest project is titled, simply, Oil. Ten years in the making, the collection is the result of Burtynsky's travels throughout the globe to examine oil fields, refineries, car culture, and the eventual disposal of our oil-thirsty machines. The photos take us to places we've never seen and in the process reveal the massive, complicated apparatus that undergirds our lives of seamless convenience.

Off, which toured North America and Europe last year, is divided into three categories. "Extraction & Refinement" examines the landscapes that have been formed (or deformed) by the petroleum industry. An image of oil pipelines snaking through the Canadian forest. is unsettling. The stark contrast between the silver of the pipes and the trees' green shows how alien our technologies can appear on our own planet. …