Socar Oil Fields #6, Baku, Azerbaijan

Edward Burtynsky

Date : 2006

Medium : Photography

Size : 109 x 159,5 cm

Devoid of any image manipulation when capturing environmental chaos as shown in these Baku oilfields, Burtynsky’s photographs could be termed documentary. Yet the artistic force of these images confer a metaphorical power upon them at the same as propelling them towards abstraction.

Text : Carole Vantroys.
Translation : Pamela Hargreaves.

The guide

What a surreal vision, what disquieting strangeness.

In front of this photograph by Edward Burtynsky, we cannot remain indifferent. The image has both a real and unreal quality at the same time. It is both attractive and disturbing.

What creates this enigmatic impression?
·    First, the colours. The Canadian photographer took this image at an hour of day when the sea and the sky merge, bathing the image in a hazy atmosphere that conceals all reference points.
·    Next, the subject. Are these strange structures the Eiffel Towers of the 21st century, the Ferris wheels of an amusement park set adrift? 

Despite its ghostly appearance, all of this could not be more real.

As the title reveals, we are in Baku.
The city is the capital of Azerbaijan, a new economic centre experiencing unprecedented economic growth thanks to its oil fields and the immense oil pipeline put into service in 2006, the year when Burtynsky took this photograph.

Burtynsky travels the world to capture the contradictions of our society. On the one hand we draw from nature all of the raw materials necessary to maintain our current living standards and on the other we are guilty of abusing the earth in doing so.
With an approach recalling that of German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher and their followers, known as the Düsseldorf School, this Canadian artist pursues objective photography that focuses on the industrial landscape as its only subject. Mines, factories, dams, ports, fields of recycling materials, Burtynsky points a finger at man’s responsibility without ever showing him.