LIT: Beautiful photography exposes crude reality

Pub date June 26, 2008
SectionPixel Vision

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photo by Lou Dematteis

Crude Reflections opens with pastoral scenes of a rainforest lagoon and the looming roots of a giant ceiba tree. Indigenous Ecuadorians are dancing in an open-air hall and traveling by canoe down tributaries of the Amazon River. A placid stretch of water seems threatened by nothing more than a puffy white thunderhead.

Turn the page. The viewer is blasted by roiling flames: the liquid surface of a waste oil pit on fire, the foreground charred to coal, the forest horizon blurred by a shaky haze of heat.

Turn another page and the river has given way to a viscous stream of oil seeping out of a “remediated” pit. A family is walking down a road, sprayed with waste oil to keep down the dust. They are barefoot. They are the Aguindas from Rumipamba, lead plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Chevron,

Photographers Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak have put together an unparalleled pictorial account of life in the northern Amazon region of Ecuador, where certain elements of life are cruel and crude. For over 30 years, the land, water, and people have been tossed asunder in favor of a more marketable natural resource: oil.

From 1964 to 1992, Texaco drilled for oil in the Oriente region, but chose not to employ best practices for the industry, instead dumping the waste and byproducts into 627 open, unlined pits, polluting a region three times the size of Manhattan.

Color shots by Dematteis and black and white images from Szymczak are interspersed with profiles, written in English and Spanish, of families and children who have fallen ill from decades of drilling.

“After bathing, our skin was covered with crude,” says Maria Garofalo, whose husband and daughter both suffer from different forms of cancer. “I went to the oil companies, and they said this wouldn’t affect me; that the reason I had cancer was because I didn’t have good personal hygiene.”

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photo by Lou Dematteis