The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil
Petroleum companies have a fundamental role in shaping our collective imaginaries of the modern world. In fact, oil makes modern ways of seeing possible. Petroleum was integral to the development of early photography and the creation of celluloid filmstrips. Beyond petrochemicals, oil as fuel was essential for transporting film pioneers and their heavy equipment to remote locations around the world. In short, the history of cinema is a history of oil. At the same time, oil and cinema are entangled with histories of imperialism. Since the turn of the twentieth century, British and American oil companies have extensively filmed their operations in producing countries and used cinematic representations to craft images of postcolonial modernity that were eventually seen by citizens in Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Nigeria, and beyond.
In order to understand the constitutive ways that the politics of petroleum have shaped the cultural production of documentary images of modernity, this chapter examines linkages between British oil companies operating in the Middle East and the British documentary film movement during the first half of the twentieth century.
In Subterranean Estates: Life Worlds of Oil and Gas, Eds. M Watts, A Mason and H Appel, Cornell University Press, 2015.