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.

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
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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



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More About Beautiful Destruction

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 the best-known most polarizing public issue in Canada.

The oil/tar sands are still largely unknown to a world that understands Canada as place of unending forests and pristine nature. Most international attention continues to focus on its controversial pipelines into the United States. Beautiful Destruction takes us directly to the massive bitumen mines, tailings ponds, steam piping and refineries and their uneasy juxtaposition with the largest, unspoiled wilderness left on earth. Instead, however, of taking the predictable activist stance of condemning what he is witness to (or the more lucrative one of celebrating industry) Louis Helbig channels the evocative power of his imagery directly at the imagination of the viewer. More about Beautiful Destruction

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More About Essayists

The book takes advantage of the public space created when art engages the imagination of the viewer. Beautiful Destruction takes that an 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.

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 flying Luscombe aircraft over Alberta

More about 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.

Beautiful Destruction is published by Rocky Mountain Books. 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, largely unknown industrial project in the Canadian wilderness at 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.

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Buy Autographed Book

Purchase autographed or personally inscribed copies of the Beautiful Destruction book on this website. Beautiful Destruction is also available in good quality bookstores.

A limited numbered edition (only 350 copies) of Beautiful Destruction is available exclusively from Louis Helbig. Until stock runs out, numbered books can be packaged with a limited edition photographic print from the book.

Numbered, limited edition prints of various sizes are available from $175 – $3,500 either directly through Louis Helbig or those fine art galleries featuring his work. Order books or prints.

Progressive Bus on Highway 63 near Syncrude Mildred Lake

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