The photo on the left was recently published on the National Geographic website and shows a false color image of the Mississippi River Delta. The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has caused the river water in this image to appear as shimmering liquid silver. This image really puts me in mind of the work of Edward Burtynsky (pictured right) – A photographer who is obsessed with landscapes which have been dramatically altered by industrial interventions; landscapes which are dominated by quarries, mines, transport infrastructure, landfill and manufacturing plants. He refers to this condition as “residual landscape”.
His recent book, aptly titled “oil” visually reveals the sites and processes of the extraction, refinement, transportation and use of a substance we so readily take for granted. In addition to making visible such curious processes, the images captured by Burtynsky aim to exhibit landscapes which have suffered severe disruption of one kind or another on a large and breathtaking scale.
Despite the absence of ‘catastrophe’ and natural disaster in Burtynsky’s work, the recent images of the Gulf oil spill are similarly breathtaking in the sense that they display a large area of a natural landscape which has been radically (and rapidly) transformed as a result of human intervention.