Louis Helbig is a commercial pilot and self-taught photographer who shot the Alberta Tar Sands in the summer of 2008 and the winter of 2012. Helbig’s images are disturbing and contradictory in their rendered beauty of a subject that is so controversial and environmentally destructive. The genius of his work is in his ability to hold the mirror up, forcing us to confront the seductive appeal of our fossil fuel addiction.
“The Alberta tar sands are a place of superlatives, a place of awesome beauty and destruction,” Helbig said. “They are a kaleidoscope of contrasts, colours and patterns keeping time with the seemingly unstoppable movement of machinery, smoke and effluent. Their scale is otherworldly, the details peculiar and surreal.
“In exhibiting this imagery I have discovered that my interpretation of this controversial subject seems – more often than I could ever have predicted, or hoped – to transcend the shrill polarities that have encumbered the issue. The art seems to provide a space for some viewers, whatever their opinions or preconceptions, to reflect and engage their imaginations, themselves and each other.
“The tar sands, as with its pipelines, are of our creation, a human project, with all the contradictions and drama inherent in that. They are as good and bad, as beautiful and destructive as we are as human beings. I hope my art opens a window on that.”
Born in Toronto and raised in Williams Lake, British Columbia, Louis Helbig is an Ottawa-based artist and photographer specializing in aerials. His work has been widely exhibited and published in Canada and around the world.
His background includes professional roles within public, NGO and private organizations in Canada and abroad including the Government of British Columbia, Foreign Affairs Canada, CUSO and Sharp Wings. He has an MSc in Economic History from the London School of Economics and represented Canada as a member of its National Cross Country Ski Team.
Photography by Louis Helbig