Oil, Edward Burtynsky's photography

Edward Burtynsky Oil

Oil Fields #22, Cold Lake Production, 2001.

Oil Fields #19a & #19b, Belridge, California, USA, 2003.

Oil Tanker and Refineries, Pasadena, Texas, USA, 2004.

Highway #5, Los Angeles, California, USA, 2009.

Breezewood, Pennsylvania, USA, 2009.

VW Lot #1, Houston, Texas, USA, 2004.

AMARC #5, Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona, USA, 2006.

SOCAR Oil Fields #2, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006.

Talladega Speedway #1, Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 2009.

Oxford Tire Pile #9ab, Westley, California, USA, 1999.

Artist's Statement

When I first started in the photography industry it was out of a sense of awe at what we as a species were up to. Our achievements became a source of infinite possibilities. But time goes on, and that first flush of wonder began to turn. The car that I drove cross-country began to represent not only freedom, but also something much more conflicted. I began to think about oil itself, as both the source of energy that makes everything possible, and as a source of dread, for its ongoing endangerment of our habitat.

In 1997 I had what I refer to as my ‘oil epiphany’. It occurred to me that all the vast man-altered landscapes I had pursued for over twenty years had been made possible by the discovery of oil and the progress occasioned by the internal combustion engine. Over the next twelve years I researched and photographed the largest oil fields I could find. I went on to make images of refineries, freeway interchanges, automobile plants and the scrap industry resulting from the recycling of cars. I began to look at motor culture, where vast tribes come together with vehicles as the main attraction.

In no way can one encompass the influence and extended landscape of this thing we call ‘oil’. These images can be seen as notations by one artist — contemplating the global economic growth made possible through this massive energy force, and the cumulative effects of the industrial evolution upon our planet.

About the photographer


1955, St. Catharines, Canada



Based in

Ontario, Canada

About Edward Burtynsky

Edward Burtynsky is known as one of Canada’s most respected photographers. His remarkable photographic depictions of global industrial landscapes are included in the collections of over fifty major museums around the world, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Born in 1955 of Ukrainian heritage in St. Catharines, Ontario, Burtynsky is a graduate of Ryerson University (Bachelor of Applied Arts in Photography) and studied Graphic Art at Niagara College in Welland. He links his early exposure to the sites and images of the General Motors plant in his hometown to the development of his photographic work. His imagery explores the intricate link between industry, nature and humanity’s impact upon the Earth.

In 1985, Burtynsky also founded Toronto Image Works, a darkroom rental facility, custom photo laboratory, digital imaging and new media computer-training centre catering to all levels of Toronto’s art community. Mr Burtynsky also sits on the board of directors for Toronto’s international photography festival, Contact and The Ryerson Gallery and Research Center.

Exhibitions include Oil (2009) at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (five-year international touring show), Manufactured Landscapes at the National Gallery of Canada (touring from 2003 – 2005), Before the Flood (2003), and China (toured 2005 – 2008). Burtynsky’s visually compelling works have recently been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across Canada, in the United States, Europe and Asia.

An active lecturer on photographic art, Mr Burtynsky’s speaking engagements include the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C, the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, The Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the TED conference – Idea City, and Ryerson University in Toronto. His images have appeared in various periodicals, among them: Art in America, Art News, The Smithsonian, Harper’s Magazine, Flash Art, Blind Spot, Art Forum, Saturday Night, Canadian Art, Playboy, National Geographic Society and the New York Times.

Mr Burtynsky’s distinctions include the TED Prize, The Outreach award at the Rencontres d’Arles, The Flying Elephant Fellowship, the Applied Arts Magazine book awards, and the Roloff Beny Book award. In 2006 he was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of Canada and given an honorary degree; Doctor of Laws, from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.