This has to be a book of monumental proportions: the photographer's ten year concept; ninety-nine stunning photos; just over fourteen by eleven inches; weighing over six pounds (and I might just add some monumental dreary writing).
It's very refreshing to see a photo book that is devoted to an in depth look at one subject and thankfully in its widest visual form. Burtynsky traveled across America, Canada, China, Azerbaijan and Bangladesh to capture images showing extraction, refinement, transport, motor culture and the end result of transport when oil has been used.
These are photos that will just grab and amaze you, straight reportage and no arty gimmicks (who needs them when the subject matter is this visually fascinating). Brand new pipelines in Alberta that are angled across the country and you'll notice that a forest has been cut down to follow the angle of the pipes, dozens of nodding-donkeys across the landscape in Belridge, California, Fort McMurray tar sands in Alberta, six deep flyovers in LA, the quite extraordinary decaying derricks and oil polluted land in Baku, Azerbaijan, tire and crushed auto dumps and yet more amazing shots of the shore in Chittagong, Bangladesh where the locals cut up, big super tankers into small bits for re-cycling, mostly by hand, too. All these remarkable photos are presented on the page with generous margins and printed on matt art with a 175 screen and because Burtynsky took all the photos they have a continuity of color and texture.
The book is in two parts. The photos then three essays. The first one by Paul Roth, of the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC, is amazingly verbose, as in:
'This modern form of sublimity is more complex than mere technophobia. It acknowledges our dependence on automation, its betterments and pleasures; our astonishment at its extremes; and finally, our creeping terror at its consequentiality. We see no simplistic villainy in Burtynsky's pictures--no industrial Golem, no homicidal Frankenstein. Rather, we see the ordering force of man, and the chilling, corrosive, penultimate threat that lies at the black heart of our rationalism.'
There are just over fifty paragraphs of this stuff! The other two essays (both written in an easy to follow straightforward style) are fortunately worth reading as they a reveal some historical detail about the sticky stuff and some background to the photos but I thought it rather odd that between these two there is a section with six photos of the deserted Ford Motor factories in Detroit. I would have thought they belonged in the main part of the book. The essays get no index but all the photos do with thumbnails and captions. Why the very brief captions can't be centered under the photos instead of having to constantly turn to the back to read them is very annoying in my opinion.
Burtynsky has already published two visually strong photo books (China and Quarries, both from Steidl) and with Oil he continues to deliver remarkable images.
***SEE INSIDE BOOK by clicking 'customer images' under the cover.