The Fussy Eye: Oil and Water

Eco art, courtesy of Deepwater Horizon.

At the Seattle Aquarium's indoor tidal-pool exhibit, kids are almost instinctively drawn to the colorful starfish, anemones, urchins, and sea cucumbers in the shallow, readily accessible ponds. (Look, but don't touch!) Laminated cue cards help them identify these native species. Parents, however, may turn to the walls for a very different and more dispiriting view of the ocean, one year and 4,000 miles removed. Based in Seattle, on assignment for Greenpeace, Spanish-born photographer Daniel Beltrá chartered a plane to fly over BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010. By that point, the rig had sunk, 11 men had died, and cleanup crews were trying to contain the 4.9 million barrels of crude, disperse it, and (in some cases) set fire to it. The 16 large color images in Spill avoid the usual coastal clichés of oil-covered pelicans and seals; these are blue-water photos, only the water is no longer so blue. The waves wear a red-crested froth, while containment vessels plow troughs of clear water through the goo. Here, a C-130 drops a white plume of detergent onto the magenta tide. There, ringed by booms, a controlled burn belches black smoke like the infernal maw of a volcano. This is advocacy art, to be sure; Beltrá has long concentrated on environmental photography in his work for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and others. The devastation is so macro-scaled as to inspire awe, like the images of Edward Burtynsky. But turn around again, and the kids are still peering into the small ponds where life first emerged. 

 
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