Exhausted Volunteers, The Prestige Oil Spill Favorite 



Dec 13 2022


Galicia, Spain

Spain’s most devastating environmental disaster took place 20 years ago, on the evening of November 13th, 2002. The Prestige oil spill occurred off the coast of Galicia, part of northern Spain. The spilled oil, in time, covered around 2,000 kilometers of the Galician coast. The authorities eventually decided to move the sinking leaking ship away from the coast, and with the help of tugboats they took it out to sea (Rodriguez Martinez & Llach, 2022). This one decision caused catastrophic events, if the boat was never moved out to sea the spill could have been reduced to just a few kilometers of coastline (Rodriguez Martinez & Llach, 2022). The beach of Galicia was left black, over 200,000 seabirds died, and it left a trail of damage and death as far as Portugal and France (The Local, 2022).
Photographer Allan Sekula documented the ecological disaster through his titled series Black Tide which currently is showcased in Museo Reina Sofía Madrid, Spain. Allan Sekula was an American photographer, his work usually focused on large economic systems, and ecological or political events. Allan Sekula’s artistic documentation of the Prestige oil spill brings up the conversation of political or social change. The piece titled Exhausted Volunteers which is part of the Black Tide series, pictured below, showcases, in detail, 3 photographs one on top of another. Each of the three photographs depicts worn-out, drained, and weary volunteers. The top photograph displays two workers on a boat that appears to be resting for any chance they get. Their body language and facial expressions show that they are physically and mentally depleted and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The subsequent photographs display more workers on the boat either sleeping of pure mental and physical exhaustion or resting against a wall in a hopeless state. Despondency fills the air. Even through the constant chaos, the spill had caused, Sekula managed to capture stillness. The orange, and yellow tones and the golden light give the photographs a sense of innocence.
Sekula raises awareness, educates, and creates change through his whole collection Black Tide but more specifically it can be seen through his piece Exhausted Volunteers. Allan Sekula’s documentation of this historical ecological event sheds visibility onto what was happening in real time, as he documented the catastrophes that occurred as a result of the spill. The photographic art piece conveys a powerful message about ecological disasters and the toll these tragic events have on the people involved. The artistic use of photography allows viewers from different cultural contexts to feel the depth of the piece and recognize what is happening without inhibiting barriers hindering what the photograph is attempting to convey. Exhausted Volunteers helps the viewers visualize and understand what really happened at the Prestige oil spill and what the volunteers and activists experienced.

Photograph Exhausted Volunteers by Allan Sekula
From Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia Websit

Allan Sekula Black Tide/Marea Negra, 2002–2003. Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. (2022). Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.tba21.org/#item--Black_tide--1724
American Thoracic Society. (2007, September 19). Oil spill clean-up volunteers suffer prolonged respiratory problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070914085230.htm
The Local. (2022, November 10). Spain's 'prestige': The worst-ever oil spill in Europe 'could happen again'. The Local Spain. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.thelocal.es/20221110/spains-prestige-the-worst-ever-oil-spil...
Rodriguez Martinez, M., & Llach, L. (2022, November 30). 'terrifying cocktail': Spain's Worst Environmental Disaster, 20 years. euronews. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.euronews.com/2022/11/14/spains-biggest-environmental-disaste...

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