Beautiful Destruction – Alberta Oil/Tar Sands

The largest industrial project on earth. Mining bitumen in the Canadian boreal forest.
Climate Change. Petroleum. The Dilemma of Our Time.

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the book

The Book
Book cover of Beautiful Destruction photo book of Alberta oil sands or tar sands
The Photographs
Construction Crane at Exxon Mobil Kearl oil sands
The Essayists
Architect-Theatre's Layne-Coleman-Georgina-Beaty-Jonathan-Seinen-Greg-Gale-250x167-med
The Media & Reviews

“Helbig’s photos are not riddles; they are literal representations of the landscape, but in them he finds patterns, both natural and man-made, that toy with the eye of the viewer.”

Ottawa Citizen

“Louis Helbig captures some of our most barren and desolate landscapes and turns them into bold, geometric art.”

Maclean's Magazine

“Louis Helbig has been photographing Canada’s oil sands mining for several years, with fascinating results”

New York Times

“Shot through acclaimed aerial photographer Louis Helbig’s lens, a swirling black and tan bitumen slick becomes strangely reminiscent of an abstract expressionist painting.”

Toronto NOW

the Beautiful Destruction book

Product Photos 008 1500 Beautiful Destruction is a 300-page coffee-table art photography book of the oil/tar sands in Northern Alberta, Canada. The publisher is Rocky Mountain Books.

The book’s 232 photographs were taken over 5 years, from the author/artist’s small plane, as the tar/oil sands emerged from political and environmental obscurity to becoming ground-zero for the dilemma of our time: climate change in the face of a global, petroleum driven economy.

Beautiful Destruction takes the reader directly to the massive bitumen mines, tailings ponds, steam piping and refineries set within the boreal forests of northern Canada. This is where the controversial pipelines at the centre of the climate change debate in America originate.

The photography challenges conventional notions of art and beauty. Sixteen prominent individuals with very different political opinions, ideas and insights share their uncensored views of the Alberta oil/tar sands. More about Beautiful Destruction


sixteen diverse essays
Chief Allan Adam

Chief Allan Adam

The book takes advantage of the public space created when art engages the imagination of the viewer. Beautiful Destruction takes that a huge, unprecedented step further, expanding this public space with 16 essays by prominent individuals from environment and industry, from local to international, to share their insights, ideas and opinions about the oil/tar sands.

This is the first fair forum on the tar/oil sands. Helbig gave each writer the same space and complete editorial control over their own contribution.

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

The essays, like the photographs, reflect the myriad of complexities and contradictions inherent to any human endeavour, especially one as large and important as the oil/tar sands. Some are particularly Canadian: grappling with First Nations treaty rights, the cultural impact of boom towns or the pitfalls of exporting a raw resource to another country for processing. The underlying tension, however, of grappling with the reality of climate change versus a petroleum driven global economy is universal.  MORE about Essay Contributors

Louis Helbig

Louis Helbig brings an eclectic background to his work. He competed internationally on Canada’s national cross country ski team, flew bush planes in rural BC, holds an MSc from the London School of Economics, and has worked as a cabinet minister’s advisor, an economist, and a university lecturer. He left Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs in 2006 to become a full-time artist.

Helbig is delighted by how Beautiful Destruction, with its premise of engaging and not alienating, is being received. In Canada it is helping defuse a highly polarized, divisive issue and create space for substantive, meaningful discussion of the oil/tar sands. Internationally, it is raising awareness of a massive, industrial project in the Canadian wilderness at

Louis Helbig flying Luscombe aircraft over Alberta

Louis Helbig flying his plane

the centre of one of the dilemmas of our time:  grappling with the realities and contradictions of climate change versus a petroleum driven global economy.

Contact Louis Helbig for engaging presentations about Beautiful Destruction or his other projects.

purchase Beautiful Destruction book
Regular Book $75

Regular Book $75

Purchase autographed or personally inscribed copies of Beautiful Destructionbook on this website or at good quality bookstores. $75

A limited numbered edition (only 350 copies) of Beautiful Destruction is available exclusively from Louis Helbig. $150

Purchase Autographed Book

Numbered Book $150


Numbered books may be packaged with a limited edition photographic print. $500

Numbered, limited edition prints of various sizes are available from $175 (11x16in) to $3,500 (40x60in) directly from Louis Helbig or from fine art galleries featuring his work.

Order Books or Art Prints

Progressive Bus on Highway 63 near Syncrude Mildred Lake

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