J Henry Fair Industrial scars oil extraction

In J Henry Fair’s book we see the visual consequences of processes, such as oil extraction

There’s something particularly striking about sights that at first appear beautiful only to later reveal the aching horror that lies beneath. This book by environmentalist and photographer J Henry Fair functions with that notion in mind. His mission statement is to make images that are both meaningful and beautiful. Industrial Scars, a collection of aerial images that are notable for their gorgeous textures and colours, is not only a book of devastating beauty, but is also a volume that has something utterly vital to communicate to its audience. What we find in Fair’s images is the consequences of our pillaging of the earth’s natural resources.

Like Sebastiao Salgado and Edward Burtynsky, Fair is a photographer who deals in big themes. Whereas Salgado creates stark monochrome images, Fair instead takes the Burtynsky route by producing large images swimming in colour and form. Fair’s previous book, Day After Tomorrow, dealt with similar ideas to this volume. In that book, Fair revealed what happens when unchecked consumerism runs roughshod. Industrial Scars, which was shot entirely in the USA, feels bigger in both scope and themes, and is all the more devastating for it. Here we see the consequences of our insatiable hunger for energy, raw materials and farming.

Most of the sites illustrated in this book can only be seen from the air, either because of the remoteness of their location, or because they are hidden behind fences or landscaped barriers. With that in mind, a small plane quickly became Fair’s vehicle of choice. He was flown above these sites by a series of pilots, many of whom are themselves dedicated to environmental causes.

A vital message

What’s particularly good about this book is that Lewis Smith, a journalist who specialises in science and the environment, gives Fair’s images ample context. Once the initial mesmerism wears off, Smith is there to push your face a little closer to the page and explain in clear and concise detail just what it is you’re seeing.

If this all sounds a little heavy, then Industrial Scars is doing its job. It’s not trying to preach to you, but it is trying to force you to face consequences. None of us walk away from this guilt free. In that sense, Industrial Scars is a great success. Not only is the book beautiful it also has something vital to say.

SCORE: 5 out of 5

J Henry Fair Industrial scars cover

Published by Papadakis,

Price £30,204 pages hardback

ISBN 978-1-906506-61-2