Slick Images: The Photogenic Politics of Oil

Extra City, Antwerp, 2015

Debates are currently taking place amongst scientists as to whether we have entered a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – to reflect humanity’s considerable impact upon earth, the outcome of which would formally bring an end to the current period of the Holocene. Yet it is not enough to understand these transformations purely in terms of their radical geological reorganization, we must also confront their violence as fundamentally imagistic. Anthropogenic matter is relentlessly visual in throwing disturbing images back at us from which we should recoil, were we not part of this same obscene metabolic order. I forward the proposition that we have, by extension, also entered a new geo-photo-graphic era in which planetary systems have been transformed into photographic agents: hyperimages that are registering and recording the rapid transformations induced by industrialization and their carbon practices. From the fracturing of the polar icecap to the accelerated desertification of arable land, a comprehensive material archive of global wrongs has emerged exemplified by the slick imagery of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These extreme pictures are quite literally earth-shattering and thus incommensurate with the epochal logic that would fold humans into their unifying orders as an agent amongst any other. On the contrary, the phylogenetic incident of humanity has mutated into a force as unpredictable and potentially cataclysmic as that of the meteorites that crashed into earth to inaugurate the Ice Age. It is this random Anthropogenic violence that the unleashed oil molecules of the Deepwater Horizon ultimately pictured as they coalesced and slithered across the Gulf of Mexico.