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A Grim Photographic Tribute to the BP Oil Disaster

A look at one of humanity's worst oil calamities from one of its most renowned documentarians.

Daniel Beltrá

One of the first photographers on the scene of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was a Spanish-born man, now living in Seattle, named Daniel Beltrá. Greenpeace had sent him there on a four-day mission to document the environmental catastrophe. As the stricken rig continued to hemorrhage oil, those four days became two months, a time that Beltrá filled making gorgeous yet monumentally depressing photos of black-stained seas and gloop-covered animals.

Beltrá would eventually go on to win several awards for his work in the Gulf. London's Natural History Museum dubbed him "Wildlife Photographer of the Year" for the above image of pelicans awaiting cleaning at a volunteer clinic, for instance. It's one more honor in his decades-long career of exposing humanity's junking of the planet, from rampant logging in Indonesia and the Amazon to ice breaking up in the ever-warming waters of the Arctic. Not that he's doing this for awards: Beltrá travels to these ravished places out of a sense of environmental justice, or anger. As he once said: "I get more pissed than depressed."

To mark the fourth anniversary of the April 20th oil spill – the deadly effects of which are still being felt – Beltrá's given his blessing to run some of his Gulf photos. For people who want to see more and larger images, check out his book covering the disaster, Spill.

Photos courtesy of Daniel Beltrá

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.