What urban dwellers never see

Once again, I’m intrigued by a photography book. Burtynsky: Oil tells a “beautiful and strangely unnerving”* story about the stuff that fuels our cars.

Over ten years, Edward Burtynsky took photos of oil fields, refineries, freeway interchanges and automobile plants to create something we don’t see in the altogether as we merrily drive along. From an art bookseller’s site, “The ideal photographer for this job, Burtynsky locates and documents the sites that urban dwellers never see, and questions human accountability.” 

It took several tries at an independent bookstore the other day to check their stock for this book. My fault, though, as it was on a whim that I asked if they had it, and I misspelled Burtynsky. Turns out they didn’t have it (not surprising, as expensive photography books like this don’t tend to be stocked),  plus I would’ve had to pay in advance for it to be ordered. I wasn’t taken aback by that, but I began to wonder who the audience/revenue source is for expensive publications like Burtynsky: Oil

Burning Tire Pile # 1 Near Stockton, California 1999, Edward Burtynsky "Oil"

In addition to cost, local habits and demands determine what bookstores keep in stock, so I’m thankful for online slideshows. Still, it would be nice to touch the pages and feel the heft of the book. A phone call to the Columbus Museum of Art bookstore informed me they once had Burtynsky’s Quarries in stock, but the current renovation diminishes room for usual in-stock books. When the renovation is completed, this may be the place to visit Burtynsky’s books and others like it. 

Breezewood, Pennsylvania, USA 2008, Edward Burtynsky "Oil"
Burtynsky’s website offers the best arrangement of photographs to preview, versus the slideshow on the publisher’s site.  *The Corcoran Art Museum exhibited Burtynsky’s oil photographs, and the curator, in a video, describes them as “beautiful and strangely unnerving.” Also, he explains the story of the photos, ending the video with, “[Burtynsky] shows us a world that has incredible importance in our lives.”