We set ourselves quite a task when we decided six months ago to theme this entire issue, our 28th, on the subject of oil. Not only was this a more exact theme than in previous issues, we also decided to take it as far as possible, focusing more than ever on the subject and doing away with anything unrelated. While the Gulf spill was our obvious but essential starting point, which has been expanded upon in the “Report” section (with photographs by Espen Rasmussen and Jiang He and Arthur J D and a look at the images from the Gulf spill by Michael Shaw), we look at the various ways in which photographers and writers have tried to get to grips with the most slippery of subjects.
One of the regions of the world where oil has had the biggest impact of course is Nigeria, especially in the oil-producing Niger Delta. We bring you a photographic essay by Christian Lutz on the wealthy lifestyle it funds (and whose photo of a New Years celebration in the Delta graces the cover), as well as the already destitute lives it pollutes, a passionate polemic by Ben Amunwa from Remember Saro-Wiwa, as well as an interview with the region’s most incisive chronicler, Ed Kashi.
Oil has long fascinated important writers, from Walter Benjamin to Ryszard Kapuscinski, and has recently become the subject for a compelling new work of fiction by Nigerian writer Helon Habila, as well as a meticulous factual investigation – that reads like a thriller – by New York Times magazine writer Peter Maass. We are delighted to bring you excerpts from these two exceptional bodies of work.
We see how the legacy of oil has further affected people and land in Polly Braden’s tar sands essay from Canada, and in Kael Alford’s highly personal ode to the Louisiana coastline. In the Khazak capital, Astana, Yann Mingard shows us how oil has shaped – and paid for – a shimmering architectural citadel, while in Baku, Rena Effendi documents how her home town changed since the explosion of oil in the 1990s.
The politics of oil is of course another tenebrous subject. In Venezuela, Chavez-fever has run its course according to many, with the nationalisation of the country’s vast oil reserves contributing to inequality and economic pressure from world super powers. Christopher Anderson’s work Capitolio captures this chaotic and uncertain atmosphere in Caracas. Meanwhile, China has shown an unprecedented interest in Angola, offering financial help to rebuild after its devastating civil war in exchange for a 30 per cent chunk of all of Angolan oil, as explored by Samuel Bollendorf.
The Middle East is an obvious player in the world politics of oil from Suez to the Persian Gulf. Bryan Denton offers us a more light-hearted take by looking at the men who race their cars through the city streets of Saudi Arabia.
From Ecuador, John Vidal reports on the potential for a new ethics of oil, as the country’s former oil minister puts forward a revolutionary idea: to be paid for NOT drilling. And Johan Bavman photographs the SOTE pipeline that has been running through the Ecuadorian rainforest since the 1970s. Jeremy Lovell takes us on a tour of the alternatives, revealing why it can sometimes seems that, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, you might as well drill.
If you’re an avid reader of 8, you will notice with this issue our experiments with the printed page. Next year will see us not only taking our themes further but bringing them to you each time in a new, specific, and subject-led format.
Finally, we’d like to dedicate this issue to the pioneering work of Maurice Broomfield, the greatest industrial photographer of the 20th century, whose work we have been so proud to be involved with in recent years. Maurice died on October 4, 2010. His legacy, and photographs, like those from the North Sea in this issue, will endure.