Louis Helbig: aestheticising the unconscionable

Louis Helbig. Bitumen Slick N 57.19.28 W 111.25.44 Syncrude Aurora North

Helbig writes of the image above: Booms confining bitumen floating near the edge of Syncrude's Aurora North tar pond.  This is where industry suffered its most serious massive public relations setback in the spring of 2008 when someone alerted the public and the authorities to flocks of ducks landing on its surface.  In this particular incident about 1,600 ducks were killed.  Syncrude was convicted in 2010 of breaching both federal and provincial environmental reglations.

He has a series of aerial photographs of the oil sands region, and although his view is activist, as one can see from the captions, the images are beautiful.  How is it that our visual acuity has been trained to find abstraction so sublime.  Context is removed and we gaze at such images with the appreciation other eras gave to flowers or girls with pearl earrings.  This is precisely what is so dangerous about the removal of context, scale, consequences and facts.  They are removed.  

We need people such as Louis Helbig to keep explaining not just his photographs, but the abstract nature of the oil sands enterprise itself.  Whatever it does there is a diagram on the map with pipelines dotted in to Texas, maybe to Prince Rupert and on to China.  It is a series of mirrored glass office towers in Calgary and Houston. It is every plastic bag we throw hopefully into the recycling bin, it is the cloud of exhaust everytime we start our cars.