Portfolio: Edward Burtynsky

Oil on troubled waters

A lone ship is dwarfed by a tumultuous seascape: it's an enduring image of man's powerlessness in the face of nature. Yet, in this shot from the Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, the tumult is entirely of man's own making: taken in the aftermath of the oil spill at BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, it shows a tanker in the disaster's "epicentre", navigating through the slick that streaked the water's surface. "There was a gothic foreboding in [the sheen's] patterns," says Burtynsky. "It's like a Frankenstein story, where the beast escapes the lab."

His images from the spill are the latest product of his ongoing exploration of our addictive relationship with the black stuff, which has taken him from refineries to superhighways. Shot from a seaplane, they offer a vast, omniscient perspective on the catastrophe. "It reflects [our] dilemma," he says: "Nobody wants to give up their vacation or car, but we're now waking up to the consequences."

Images from Burtynsky's project are at the Look 11 Liverpool International Photography Festival ( look2011.co.uk) until 26 June

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