Daniel Beltrá is a Seattle-based photographer who specializes in large-format aerial images that document the beauty and horror of man-made disasters like the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill. His juxtapositions of nature and destruction provide an almost overwhelming sense of physical scale and emotional dread, through flattened but dynamic images that flirt with abstraction. In Oil Spill #12, a ship adrift in a wide, turbulent band of spilled oil that has risen four thousand feet to the surface of calm Gulf waters provides depth cues. The variety and nuance of its striated coils of rusty reds and wine-dark purples are striking, and startlingly painterly. This is an image for which the pace of television journalism has no time or words, and engineering descriptions cannot begin to encompass. By capturing these disasters, Beltrá invites us to consider their long-term effects, and to recognize his photographs as warnings and heralds for disasters to come.
Oil Spill #12, 2010; digital pigment print; courtesy of the artist and Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago
Daniel Beltrá’s striking, large-scale aerial photographs of melting polar ice caps and oil spills highlight the rate and scale at which humanity is impacting our world. His work has been published in the New York Times, Time, National Geographic, the New Yorker, and Le Monde and has earned him international awards, including the World Press Photo (2007 and 2018).
Photo credit: Robert Leslie