Wired Magazine

Laura Mallonee 06.20.16 - Wired

PULLING OIL FROM the tar sands of Canada is an ugly business. It scars the land with deep gashes, barren pits, and murky tailing ponds. It can be hard to grasp the scale of it from the ground, so photographer Stuart Hall rented a plane. What he saw stunned him. “There’s a lot of beauty in that place, but also a lot of destruction,” he says. “It’s like a bad marriage.”

Tar sands contain bitumen, a dense, highly viscous substance refined into oil, and Alberta sits on a deposit the size of New York. It supplies half of the oil that flows into the US from Canada, the nation's biggest supplier of foreign oil. The impact of all that mining fascinated Hall, a photographer who grew up in a coal mining family in Nottinghamshire, England. When he read about the massive sands six years ago, he knew it would be his next project.

He spent a week at Fort McMurray in November, 2011, the hub of Alberta's mining industry. The city sits on the Athabasca tar sands, the world's largest known deposit of bitumen. Some of the bitumen lies 250 feet underground and is removed with earth-moving equipment and enormous trucks. But most of it is deep enough to require injecting steam to heat the bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface.

Hall shot Giga Project during three week-long visits over three years. He had hoped to shoot from the ground, but found the worksites hidden by barriers and roadblocks. So he overcame his apprehension for flying and chartered a plane. He vividly remembers seeing the mines from 5,000 feet. “It just goes on forever,” he says. “I come from quite a small country, so seeing something that big is almost frightening.”

The Athabasca deposit lies beneath a boreal forest and peat bogs, but you'd never know it from Hall's gritty photos. The landscape is stripped of color and texture, leaving a vast expanse of gray and black dotted by enormous machines. Hall made the photos leaning out of the plane's window—an exhilarating rush despite the nausea bubbling in his stomach.

Renting a plane is expensive, so Hall had to table the project for now. He hopes to return later this year to photograph workers on the ground. Hall insists he isn't trying to be political, but his photos nevertheless make you examine the ugly cost of society's insatiable thirst for oil.

The Coolist

by Seamus Payne

While Iceland may be a small and misunderstood island nation, its beauty is far more colorful and dynamic than one can imagine.  Photographer Stuart Hall has shot a collection of photographs to show just how striking the colors of Iceland can be.  His abstract approach to landscapes are truly surreal, showcasing an environment that appears to be alien– with frames so well composed that the viewer is not quite sure what they are looking at.  This kind of abstract is truly welcome here at TheCoolist, a refreshing look at one of the Arctic Basin’s most stunning geographic gems.