These are the words of an elderly cowboy from Alberta.
It’s undeniable that oil and fossil fuels can bring immediate prosperity to an impecunious community. When we think of the phrase ‘strike oil’ we instantly associate it with fortuitous upward mobility; both oil and riches are wedded together harmoniously.
Before the 1970’s, the oil industry in Alberta was not seen as economically viable, but due to massive subsidies, technological breakthroughs and the rise in oil prices, extracting Bitumen became a reality in the early nineties.
Below the surface, oil was becoming a burning issue for local people. Health problems have continued to plague local residents of these areas, as the regulations currently in place do not take into account the health and livelihood of those most readily affected. As such, despite people continuously getting sick and farmers having to vacate their land, not enough is seemingly done to fix this problem.
In 2010, Alan Gignoux began photographing the social and environmental impacts of the Oil Sands, and how it was affecting the lives of the residents in Alberta, primarily focusing on the Fort McMurray and Peace River areas. With his team, Alan interviewed farmers, local businesses as well as employees, which allowed for a varied insight into how the areas were beginning to change.
Alan visited the region several times over the next five years as the project has expanded from its photojournalistic roots to include video footage, and his team are developing an interactive web-documentary to bring all of this media together.
One of the elements which is very clear in Alan’s work is his commitment to objectivity and transparency, recognising that to understand the complexities of how fossil fuels can affect a community is to comprehend the different impacts and attitudes.
“This topic is more complicated than it appears” said Alan.
“Despite the obvious and significant health issues, there are striking economic benefits that simply cannot be ignored. The essence of this project is to allow our interviewed participants involved to tell their own story, to describe what they are experiencing, whether that be their frustrations and fears or their hopes and rewards, to the outside world.”
The next stage of this project is exploring what other alternatives there are to fossil fuels in Alberta. Currently wind, solar and biomass are beginning to develop in the Southern region of Alberta, but are still very much in its infancy. As Canada is beginning to look at renewable energy and looking for ways to create a more sustainable future, digital storytelling and photojournalism can be a mechanism for widening this discussion.
It’s an ongoing debate whether journalism and artistry should remain intentionally separate, whether they are the same thing, or if they exist as a hybrid form. But it’s clear that they can share the same aims and conjure similar responses.
Journalism favours transparency, helping audiences to move outside of the ideology of activism and formulate an opinion with a more complete context and perspective. However, imagery such as photographs and video use creative skill, and can summon a reaction based on their beauty and emotional power.
For Alan and this project, the underlying purpose is to stimulate a conversation and fashion a personal connection with audiences.
“By creating a thought provoking documentary, driven by a passion and an understanding of the socio-environmental and political issues that the oil industry has on Alberta, my aim is that visual storytelling will inform, inspire and change ideas previously thought unchangeable.”
The topic inexorably leads to a discussion on the future of climate change, and action on climate change will take a huge commitment from Governments, businesses and individual people. Both good journalism and the creative arts in their different forms will be an instrument to involve more people in an ever-growing conversation. Which can only be a good thing.
As for the oil sands of Alberta, this project reminds us that there are several truths, numerous perspectives and indisputably high stakes, and that the journey never ends.
How do you feel? It’s best you find out for yourself.
words: chris yong
Gignouxphotos is an established photojournalistic and multimedia company, whose projects focus on the socio-political and environmental aspects of controversial issues around the world. Working with Non-Governmental Organisations such as CARE, Oxfam and the British Council, their projects have all achieved international success. The exhibition Homeland Lost was exhibited across the Middle East, including the Cinematic in Tel Aviv, one of the few times that the Palestinian refugee issue has been exhibited in Israel, as well as being showcased in the Palestinian Film Festival at the Barbican in London.
Subscribe to The Colour Of Money
Keep up to date with the latest news and opinion on The Colour of Money. Subscribe and we'll let you know when we publish new articles.