2.3 Activity 1: Discussion
Responding to the way in which the content and style of photographs are so often limited by the production and distribution processes of the mass media, Owen Logan uses digital technology to produce a new way of seeing the oil industry. As you can see, many of his pictures are made by digitally splicing separate photographs together. The effects of these montages are in part about the relationship between what is put together. For example, to me Logan's use of a photograph of an oil platform bathed in light implies a rather glamorous industry, bravely enabling the modern world to function. Yet the colliery winding gear that Owen has inserted into the image as the platform's shadow suggests that the reality might be rather different. What these photographs show and how they show it is intended to challenge conventional ways of picturing the oil industry, making it visible and displaying something of its true, if complex, nature.
These composite images also draw on Owen Logan's close collaboration with people who have contributed their life stories to the Oil Lives history project in Aberdeen. Effectively, the pictures are intended as a visual interpretation of key aspects of the informants' life stories, and the captions of these composite images are quotations from interviews with them. (Here we can see the importance of written text for shaping our understanding of the photographs.) Visualising people's individual stories in this way helps to bring a wider range of experiences of the oil industry into the public sphere. Even if, according to Logan, many people are in denial (to use Cohen's term (2001)) about the critical questions raised by the impacts of the global oil industry and by the dependency on oil which affects producers and consumers alike, these voices from Aberdeen can help to support others who want to confront the full scope of the global oil economy.
Who are those people in denial? One group of people who have misunderstood or misrepresented the role of oil, Logan argues, is the political elite of Scotland. Hence, when offered a commission to produce photographic work for the Scottish Parliament building in 2004, Logan took the opportunity to develop several photographs, and accompanying text, similar to that reproduced here. The demand he was making in that project, as in this series of photographs, was that the true nature of the global oil industry be recognised.