The beautiful thing about petroleum is that it never really disappears. Dilute it and it’s in the water. Burn it and it’s in the air. Bury it and it’s in the earth.

The beautiful thing about petroleum is that it never really disappears. Dilute it and it’s in the water. Burn it and it’s in the air. Bury it and it’s in the earth.

“Are we going to celebrate the last barrel of oil that leaves the region or are we going to despair?” Jalal BinThaneya’s photography relentlessly poses this same question from conflicting angles as he trawls cannibalized industrial landscapes of the United Arab Emirates for answers.

The photographs divulge steel pipes tangled like snakes, fairytale-like spiral staircases leading up broad oil tanks, and intricate ladders sinking into sand. There is an unexpected element of poetry here. Although there are never any people present, these are actually portraits, as everything BinThaneya captures involves nature’s manipulation by human hands. Individual pieces from the series have been shown in group exhibitions around the UAE at spaces including Tashkeel, Sharjah Art Foundation, and The Empty Quarter.

He is grudgingly committed to slow photography. It can take months to confirm a site as multiple levels of permission, specialized protective gear and an accompanying in-house engineer are compulsory before the shutter can even click in the government-operated facilities. When access does finally come through, BinThaneya shoots rapidly, alternating between three different cameras. Film has to be sent to New York for developing, then to Germany for scanning—a process that takes weeks, is expensive, and demands unusual patience for someone who is the product of an instant results-driven era.