WPY 2013

Photograph Details

Runner-up 2013

World in Our Hands Award

Garth Lenz, Canada

Oil spoils

To portray the sheer scale of the Alberta tar sands in Canada, Garth took to the skies. 'One of the biggest challenges', he says, 'was directing the pilot to position the plane precisely for the optimal composition. Multiple passes were required to get the positioning just right.' Garth's aim was for the public to see his pictures and grasp the scale of the devastation. This scene is just a small section of one of five huge tar-sand mines in the region. Tar sand is a mix of clay, sand, water and bitumen - a heavy, viscous oil, which needs refining. To extract the bitumen, wilderness areas the size of small countries have been replaced with toxic lakes, open-pit mines, refineries and pipelines. Huge quantities of oil (more than two trillion barrels) are locked up in tar sands and offer a viable way to cope with the world's energy needs, but at a huge cost. Putting aside the massive loss of wildland and the water pollution issues, tar sands are considered to be the most carbon-intensive form of energy, and as former-NASA-climatologist James Hansen has stated, if the tar sands are fully tapped it will be 'essentially game over' for any hope of establishing a stable climate.

Technical specification

Nikon D3 + 24-70mm f2.8 lens; 1/800 sec at f6.3; ISO 800.


Northern Alberta, Canada: latitude 57.1314, longitude -115.919 Northern Alberta, Canada: latitude 57.1314, longitude -115.919

Northern Alberta, Canada

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Garth Lenz

Garth Lenz, Canada

I was originally trained as a classical pianist but left music in 1992 to pursue photography. From the beginning, I have been very attracted to the comparison of the natural and industrialized landscape. My work has been honoured with awards from the Prix de la Photographie Paris, the International Photography Awards, and the Center for Fine Art Photography. In 2011 my exhibit on the boreal and the tar sands, “The True Cost of Oil,” opened in Los Angeles, and at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn later that year. It was also featured at the Aperture Foundation Gallery in New York as part of the “What Matters Now” exhibit and at the Annenburg Space for Photography. My recent TEDx talk on this exhibit has received over 800,000 views. My work has appeared in leading international editorial publications including, Time, GEO, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Walrus, Canadian Geographic, The Guardian, BBC Wildlife Magazine, and many others. My commissions for many of the world’s leading NGO’s have appeared in ads in publications such as Harper’s, Conde Nast, Travel and Leisure, The New York Times, and The New Yorker. In 2008 I was designated a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers.