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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