Vancouver's Science World kicks off the spring season with ‘GroundTruth–Anatomy of a Pipeline,' a new photographic exhibit that invites visitors to look at the bigger picture, quite
literally, on Canada's natural resource economy and its impact.
The exhibit opens today and runs through May 13. The exhibit is also part of Capture Photography Festival, an annual celebration of photography and lens-based art.
Over a six-year period, photographer Andrew Wright took photos along the route of the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline, starting at the tar sands in Alberta, and finishing in the Great Bear Rainforest on the coast.
“Canadian society has become moribund, polarized, because both sides have a stranglehold on their position and neither side is prepared to move," Wright said. "But the reality of the fact is that our current world is defined by oil.”
“This particular pipeline has been cancelled, but," Wright said, "it is a reference for all the arguments that are going on in this country about other pipelines.”
A spectacular large-scale photo exhibition, the dramatic images are just a part of an ongoing research project that includes stories about the people and biodiversity living along the pipeline.
Lives and locations along a proposed oil pipeline
Wright originally set out on a journey to document the impact of a pipeline on ecosystems, but soon found himself on a journey into the hearts and minds of Canadians. Some photography captures wild landscapes and rivers full of sockeye salmon that would be at stake in the event of an oil spill. Other portraits, like one of a farmer, shows the people who depend on pipeline revenues as a lifeline when crop yields are low.
Heading out across the province, Wright went so far as to trek down logging roads to knock on doors in remote locations to gather stories and pictures. As he spoke with people from place to place, Wright tapped into both the disparate, and shared narratives of British Columbians. The resulting photos bear witness to the individual and national struggle for prosperity in a resource-based economy.
Coming from a middle ground, Wright’s images bring a unifying human element to the ongoing pipelines discussion. Remote and obscure places come to life in photos, set against the backdrop of a large-scale map showing the places that were along the pipeline route.
Dialogue beyond polarized debate
With a mission to drive conversation and ultimately, drive change toward a green economy, the researcher also leads viewers to consider the various risks of continuing to rely on a resource-extraction economy.
“Canadian society has become moribund, polarized, because both sides have a stranglehold on their position and neither side is prepared to move," he said. "But the reality of the fact is that our current world is defined by oil.”
He continued, “You can argue a wholesale shutdown of one or many projects, but what you are then doing is harming a lot of people quickly." He argued that a sudden shift won't result in a change of people's current behaviour.
Wright, who is researching the shift to a green economy as an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, believes people need to talk about the “long-term problem of global warming that will undermine prosperity.” He emphasizes that Canada must migrate inclusively towards that change.
“The question is, how do we get there from here?" he asked. "How can we do it so that we can bring everyone along without impacting their prosperity?“
Also an engineer with numerous patents, and a photographer, Wright tends to be results-oriented. This project, however, is an ongoing journey. “Like many journeys, it’s not about the end-point, but the journey itself,” said Wright.
Wright invites visitors to join the discussion by writing down their thoughts and appending them to the exhibit.
At today's opening, one of the people viewing the exhibit, said the photos helped illustrate the debate that B.C. residents were currently seeing in the news.
"It's one thing to hear about it in the news, but actually seeing the physical locations in the photos makes it much more real," he said.
Ultimately, the GroundTruth exhibit is bound to trigger discussion and perhaps plant the seeds of change. Wright is confident that “there are solutions currently on the table,” and that with effort, we can make the changes needed to thrive in the climate change era.
Andrew Wright will be speaking at the free Opening Reception on April 10 (RSVP required).
GroundTruth–Anatomy of a Pipeline, on display April 4–May 13, at Science World, in Vancouver.