Extraction—Production—Destruction. On the Contradictory Productivity of Oily Images

Essay by Alexander Klose, published in Resolution Magazine #1 (2021), ‘Hot Pictures’

Thinking about the roles images play in the production of knowledge around anthropogenic damage to ecosystems, one stumbles into a meshwork of contradictory relations. Principally, it is possible to distinguish between two different categories of images: those about situations of extraction/destruction (with images of disasters being the most popular) and those brought forward or made by the situations themselves. The latter is a relatively new (or newly recognized) type of images that Susan Schuppli refers to as ‘dirty pictures’, a way in which “anthropogenic environments are documenting their own damaged condition.” Both types of images share a problematic condition: as they formulate a critique of extraction, destruction, and pollution, they are also a part of or the result of the circumstances they depict. In the following text I will concentrate on image-making related to the extraction and uses of oil (and the products it is used to produce) as being probably the most important and momentous of all anthropogenic substances shaping the contemporary condition of the earth. I will track some of these contradictory constellations and try to elaborate an understanding of the dialectical yet calamitous dynamics associated with producing these images.

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