Burtynsky’s ‘Oil’: Refining Art from the Crude

BY Arts Desk  October 30, 2009 at 3:33 PM EDT

Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s recently opened exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art takes a large-scale look at something most of us never see, but use or benefit from nearly everyday of our lives: oil.

Burtynsky has spent much of his career exploring the landscapes of modern society, and for more than a decade, has traveled the globe to chronicle the production, distribution and use of oil, the energy source that has shaped how we live.

His photographs in “Oil” — approximately 55 large-scale, color landscapes — expose veins of production — aerial views of twisting pipelines, lakes of oil, small cities of steel, tankers and valves. And he is equally interested in where those veins lead — car races, parking lots, vast expanses of suburban housing. For Burtynsky, whose father worked on General Motors production line, oil is something of a necessary evil.

Art Beat talked to Burtynsky and Cocoran curator Paul Roth about the exhibition, which is on view at the museum until Dec. 13, 2009, and is traveling through 2012.