Canadian photographer Burtynsky turns in a grand tour of the big, usually grimy world of petroleum.
In the foreword to this app, Burtynsky, known for epic-scale landscapes, recounts experiencing an epiphany of sorts 15-odd years ago, when it occurred to him that “all the vast man-altered landscapes I had pursued for over 20 years had been made possible by the discovery of oil and the progress occasioned by the internal combustion engine.” The impressive portfolio he assembles here chronicles that progress, if such it is, in various guises, from the tangles of spaghetti-strand highways that ring cities such as Houston, Las Vegas and, most especially, Los Angeles to the detritus of industrial civilization. It records both the celebration of oil culture (most poetically invoked in Burtynsky’s oddly unsettling photograph of a big rig circling the NASCAR track at Talladega) and the undeniably damaging effects oil is having on the world (including some harrowing images of the Deepwater Horizon explosion). Burtynsky’s work is worthy of study by budding photographers for many reasons: his mastery of light and of composition and particularly his pronounced penchant for getting up high and looking down on the world, affording views not often seen. This app well serves his intentions, and it does a good job of highlighting the best qualities of his work. On the demerit side, it’s not especially easy to navigate or bookmark, and sometimes a lot serves where a little might have done (one mountain of used tires gets the point across, so three images seem like overkill). Those quibbles aside, though, the app is a fertile blend of media, with film that takes readers on a guided tour of Burtynsky’s gallery, voice-overs that comment sagely on the technical and thematic aspects of individual photographs, well-made images that beg for retina-display view, and last—and perhaps least, since there’s not enough of it—text.
In all, a first-class photographic portfolio, intelligently aided by multimedia technology to provoke thought and discussion about the world around us.