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EPF 2012 Finalist

 

Ian Willms

Fort Chipewyan

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If anyone would listen, the First Nations peoples in Fort Chipewyan, Canada, would tell them about an ongoing ‘slow motion cultural genocide’. The isolated indigenous reserves of Northern Alberta are watching their land become unlivable as their communities are slowly poisoned by the world’s largest and most environmentally destructive oil extraction project.

The Alberta Oil Sands are the second largest oil reserves on Earth next to Saudi Arabia and are worth an estimated $1 trillion to Canada’s GDP over the next decade. This oil extraction involves an energy-intensive process of strip-mining and chemical upgrading. The liquid waste from Oil Sands production ends up in man-made tar lakes that are large enough to be visible from space. The Oil Sands have a larger carbon footprint than any other commercial oil product on Earth.

As the world entered the era of Peak Oil in 2003, Canada saw a dramatic boom in Oil Sands production. Since then, contaminated water systems, deformed fish, oil spills and alarmingly high rates of aggressive and fatal cancers have become part of life for the indigenous peoples of Northern Alberta. Industrial activity has all but wiped out the traditional economies of First Nations communities in the area. An important part of my work is to communicate how these problems now prevent people from sustaining themselves off of the land that has nurtured their lives for generations.

This work speaks to the disturbing truth that has been lost in a climate of misinformation. As part of their ‘Ethical Oil’ campaign, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) diligently publicizes industry-funded research and statistics that downplay or negate the environmental and health impacts of Oil Sands production. Meanwhile, First Nations peoples continue to lose their land, culture and lives. The Canadian government and the CAPP have made an individual and collective life expendable in the name of energy security and economic progress.

 

Bio

Born in 1985, in Kitchener, Canada, Ian Willms is an independent documentary photographer and a founding member of the Boreal Collective.

His curious and socially conscious nature has driven Ian to explore the fringes of our society, photographing abandoned environments and the people who inhabit them. From the depressed, post-apocalyptic suburbs of Detroit to the poisoned shorelines of Fort Chipewyan, Ian’s work is deeply rooted in the discussion of consumption, classism and social and political power struggles.

Ian’s work has been exhibited in North America and Europe, including solo exhibitions at Pikto Gallery and Gallery 44 Centre For Contemporary Photography and group exhibitions at O’Born Contemporary and Bau-Xi Photo. His work has also been supported and honoured by the Magnum Expression Photography Award, the National Press Photographers Association Best of Photojournalism competition, the Magenta Foundation and the Ontario Arts Council.

 

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