Picture courtesy of Daniel Beltrá / © 2010 Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace; used with permission
The oil spill is an ecological tragedy of enormous proportions. It’s unclear how BP is going address the situation, and the long term consequences will obviously be severe. BP has not been forthcoming about the extent of the spill and what is being done to fix it. There have also been disturbing news reports about efforts to stop photographers and journalists from documenting the spill and its effect. We took a moment to chat with Daniel Beltrá who returned from photographing the oil spill.
Daniel Beltrá is an award winning photographer, who shoots for Greenpeace, among other organizations. (Daniel’s “Amazon at Risk” was a Blue Earth sponsored project.)
Blue Earth: So you just got back from 28 days in the gulf, shooting the oil spill - what’s your reaction in a sentence to what you saw?
Daniel: It’s one of the biggest ecological tragedies in many centuries. It’s a time bomb.
Blue Earth: What brought you down there to photograph?
Daniel: Greenpeace called me for a four or five day assignment. 28 days later I was still there. It’s been a difficult assignment to work. Two weeks into the assignment, I realized it was a challenge to document this properly and that we need to show this to the rest of the world.
Blue Earth: How did you get to a spot from which you were able to photograph?
Daniel: I went out on a plane a lot . . . a donor provided air-time, and this made it possible to capture many of the images.
Blue Earth: Where there any logistical challenges to being able to document the spill?
Daniel: Yes, definitely. The authorities were really playing the BP game. There was an exclusion area of 3000 feet, a Temporary Flight Restriction. 90% of what I shot was above 3000 feet which is really challenging.
Blue Earth: What have you seen or photographed that you think the average person who watches on the news does not have a sense of about the spill?
Daniel: Probably the scale of the spill. From time to time the oil would appear and disappear, and capturing the scale of the spill was difficult. The use of dispersants was also very scary. Some 800,000 gallons of a dispersant may have been used, and from what I understand, this type of a dispersant is banned in other countries, like the UK. Nobody knows what will happen with the dispersant. For a long time, the game was to hide what was happening . . . when the oil is below the surface, you don’t necessarily see it.
Blue Earth: There were reports of journalists and photographers being prevented by BP and by the authorities from photographing - did you experience any of this?
Daniel: All the time. It’s a pretty difficult region to access, since it’s a coastal marshland with few points of access. There were restrictions on air and water travel. I’ve been chased off the beach, for example in Grand Isle. The local law enforcement said it was OK to photograph from the beach, but later the Sheriff came and said: “everyone out.” When this happened I went to the command center thinking that I could sort it out, but an air force sergeant there said that I would actually have to go to a community center, and coordinate with BP. At the community center, BP “coordinated” visits - they would basically escort you and call ahead.
Blue Earth: Apart from the ecological damage, what sort of other effects will this have on the area?
Daniel: It will have a huge effect on the way many people make their living in the gulf.
Blue Earth: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Check out Daniel Beltrá’s website, blog, and Facebook page.
Guardian Audio Slideshow: You can check out Daniel’s audio slideshow at the Guardian.
Greenpeace International Picture Desk: Greenpeace’s International Picture Desk [Facebook] has a large selection of photographs of the oil spill.
The Big Picture: The Big Picture from the Boston Globe has an excellent slideshow, including some of Daniel’s images: “Oil Reaches Louisiana Shores.”
BP Photo Blockage: For coverage of BP and government efforts to prevent photographers from documenting the spill, check out this article in Mother Jones: “It’s BP’s Oil,” as well as coverage in Newsweek (”BP’s Photo Blockade of the Gulf Oil Spill“), TreeHugger (”BP Contractors and Coast Guard Prevent CBS From Filming Oil Spill Devastation“) and Mother Nature Network (”Coast Guard and BP threaten journalists with arrest for documenting oil spill“).
In addition to Daniel, two other Blue Earth photographers have spoken about the effect of the spill. Florian Schulz spoke to NPR: “The Oil Spill: A Conservation Photographer’s Reaction,” and the Seattle PI: “Photographer: Don’t risk Arctic oil spill.” Subhankar Banerjee wrote a piece for TomDispatch “BPing the Arctic?,” which received extensive coverage.
- Venkat Balasubramani, Member Blue Earth Board of Directors