3 Making photographs that make demands: stories from the oil industry
There are strong links between the audio files in Activity 2 and the series of photographs in Activity 1. The discussion on the audio and the content of Activity 1 show how debates on the activities of the oil industry have become part of the public domain. The audio explores stories about people who have worked in the oil industry, or whose lives have been affected by it. Consider, for example, what Flora Macdonald has to say about the photo-montage of Aberdeen airport entitled ‘Where has all the money gone?’ (see Section 2.3). The image shows two hands coming together, with a third, empty hand depicting how local people often miss out on Aberdeen's oil prosperity. Aberdeen may be the busiest helicopter airport in the world but many local people, however proximate to the oil industry, are a considerable distance away from sharing in the prosperity which derives from the operations of the multinational companies based in Aberdeen.
This section invites you to explore ways in which this image and the other photographs have been used. Photographs are often created to make us think differently and to see things in different ways. As you have discovered, photographs can sometimes convey powerful images in ways which the written word never can. You might like to draw out from the audio discussion some sense of how these photos have worked to reveal distant or hidden realities, or to make events and people present to us in an intense emotional way.
There is a clear connection, too, with some of the material on sweatshops presented in course DD205_2 Claiming connections: a distant world of sweatshops?. Part of the audio discussion refers to ‘the appalling working conditions that existed offshore’, and there is suggestion that such dangerous working conditions have a great deal to do with the ways in which the oil industry has been globalised, creating competition between different oilfields to keep production costs down. There is further suggestion that organising workers into trade unions has always been difficult in the oil industry, and that the process of subcontracting and ‘contractuarisation’ have resulted in recruiting workers from abroad, thus further reducing labour costs.
Listen to the audio clips below and keep in mind any views you have of the anti-sweatshop movement. Are there any similarities between the images presented by the anti-sweatshop movement in DD205_2 Claiming connections: a distant world of sweatshops? and those described by the participants in the audio discussion? Are there any differences? How do both sets of images deal with responsibility?
Part 1: ‘Oil lives: making photographs make demands’
Part 2: ‘Oil lives: making photographs make demands’
Part 3: ‘Oil lives: making photographs make demands’
Part 4: ‘Oil lives: making photographs make demands’
Part 5: ‘Oil lives: making photographs make demands’
Part 6: ‘Oil lives: making photographs make demands’
You will probably have concluded that there is much in common between both sets of experiences. The fragmentation of industrial production, subcontracting, outsourcing and offshore production are key characteristics of contemporary globalisation, whether the production is that of oil in the North Sea or of garments in South-East Asia. All such processes make the determination of responsibility difficult, if not impossible. However, there is a reference in the audio discussion to an alternative globalisation – the Scandinavian model of employment relations with the example of the Norwegian oil company, StatOil, which has a global agreement on working conditions (for all the company's workers in the world over) influenced by local industrial relations and local management regimes in particular places.
We have thus identified important connections between the material presented in the audio clips and the way in which global networks of economic activity can both keep things apart and bring them together. But there are many other connections to be made, for example:
The impact of migration linked to the oil industry – here you might consider links to migration from Mexico to the US and the issues of labour migration raised in OpenLearn course DD205_1 Living in a globalised world.