Louis Helbig has returned home to Williams Lake to visit family and share his latest project, an aerial photography study of the oil sands.
The project has resulted in a coffee table book titled Beautiful Destruction that was published by Rocky Mountain Books last December.
On Saturday, Oct. 3 Helbig will be giving a free presentation about the project at the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society Centre.
The book contains around 230 photographs of the area in and around an industrial complex in the middle of the boreal forest in the middle of nowhere, Helbig said.
Through the photographs he has tried not to proselytize, he noted.
“The photographs have engaged people from all walks of life, for and against, and across the political spectrum.
People imagining, thinking and reflecting in their own terms, is far more powerful than me saying anything.”
The book also includes essays by various contributors as Helbig attempted to cover all aspects of the industry.
Essays come from contributors such as Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Greg Stringham, vice-president of Oil Sands Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Gil McGown, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour and Dr. John O’Connor a physician in Wood Buffalo, Alta.
Helbig was living in Ottawa when the idea for the project began. He initially went up there in 2008, a time when you would have found little consequential media coverage, he said.
That changed in 2010 when Canadian film maker James Cameron went to Fort McMurray at the invitation of Chief Allan Adam, he said.
Since 2011, there has been wall-to-wall coverage and stories of people from all over moving there.
“I was home visiting and learned that people from Williams lake were working in Fort McMurray. It was a real cultural phenomenon.”
His photographs depict Horizon, Anzac, Lake Athabasca, Kearl, Fort Chipewyan, Surmont, Mildred Lake, Millennium Mine, Uranium City, Firebag, McKay River, Fort Saskatchewan, Aurora North and more.
“I hope these aerial photographs do indeed lift a veil of ignorance, and that the critical reader will use his or her imagination to discern and reflect on whose veils and whose ignorance are playing what role in the context of Canada – in this, the Canada of our time,” Helbig writes in the book.
During an exhibit of 25 of the photographs in 2010, the comment section in the guest book took on a life of its own.
“People were writing to each other, even crossing comments out. It became very interactive, ” Helbig said. “I was both praised and called names for creating the book.”