Burtynsky: Oil

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© Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy Nicholas Metivier, Toronto / Flowers, London Edward Burtynsky, 'Alberta Oil Sands #2, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada', 2007
Photography has changed and reinvented itself almost as often as the regular exhibition programme at this institution over the past 30 years, but the first shows of a new era look to cover mostly familiar territory. Headlining is Edward Burtynsky’s undoubtedly majestic if portentous series, ‘OIL’ (capitalised in case you didn’t get the epic gravitas). The search for the sticky stuff is depicted in wide shots of Californian scrubland being relentlessly dredged by mechanical, pumping arms and lakes of black gold pooling hazardously on the Alberta tar sands in Canada. Once it surfaces, Burtynsky finds, oil either blights or gives light and heat – often simultaneously in the plumes of billowing smoke that mingle with the equally doomy clouds above. (OW)