Life in Ruin: Reading images of damage in the Athabasca tar sands

Authors: Samantha Spady*, , Siobhan Angus*,
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Resources, Canada
Keywords: Keywords: photography, environmental humanities, tar sands, damage, settler colonialism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Senate Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Through a case study of photographs of petroleum extraction in Canada’s Athabasca tar sands
region, we consider how images inform and complicate how we understand damage and the
ongoing possibilities of life in environmental sacrifice zones. In understanding that knowledge,
relationships, and struggle are formed and happen in place, in this collaboration we wonder: can
we trace the formation of, and consumption of images of extraction in place? To put another
way, can we look at looking in place? What can the methods of reading the visual allow us to ask
across spaces and times? How might we read images (of places) alongside the place itself? Our
method of foregrounding geography places the erasure and dismissal of Indigenous knowledges
about land, brought about through the colonization of the Americas and how this relates to
contemporary practices of extractive capitalism at the center of our inquiry. We bring together
art historical methods with place-based research to read against the singular indexicality of
images to instead read them as a “simultaneous environment,” situating it historically and
excavating the context of its production.

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