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June 30, 2010

Alan Chin: The Ocean On Fire

Flying on board a BP-contracted helicopter over the site of the sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and its still out-of-control oil spill, the overwhelming sight is of the burning to try and get rid of as much of the oil as possible.

My own photographs look to me almost like the scenes of naval combat from the Second World War: Japanese kamikazes striking American aircraft carriers in the Pacific, or decimated British convoys in the North Atlantic or Mediterranean Sea.

There is no war here, of course, only years of lazy, corrupt oversight and corporate greed. If Afghanistan and Iraq have felt like endless wars, though, the BP oil spill also seems like it will never stop, as the earliest and most optimistic predictions of capping the well are long months away. Two sides of the same coin; both at home and abroad, we are living in a society of paralysis, predicted failure, and incompetence.

The ocean is on fire, and the water below poisoned.


captions– (all photos) Above the Gulf of Mexico, June 19, 2010: View of the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill from helicopter over-flight as oil is burned off.

About the Photographer

Alan Chin

Alan Chin was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. Alan Chin was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. Since 1996, he has worked in China, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. In the US, Alan has explored the South, following the historic trail of the civil rights movement and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, covered multiple presidential campaigns, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. He is a contributing photographer to Newsweek/Daily Beast and The New York Times, a member of Facing Change: Documenting America (FCDA), and an editor at You can see all Alan's posts for BagNews here.

  • David

    When I first saw the photograph, the black billowing smoke pouring endlessly into the sky amid the chared remains of Deepwater Horizon immediately reminded of the iconic (and sad) photos in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

    Unfortunately, I feel that visceral connection is altogether fitting because it highlights our own incompotence and paralysis. Moreover, just as the attack on Pearl Harbor represented the (tardy) American entry into the long and costly World War II, I can only hope that this still out-of-control disaster will be remembered as a turning point (and ideally a rallying cry: remember Deepwater Horizon!) in our individual lives and national history.

  • Dredd

    Scientists in report after report warned about the instability of the seabed in the Gulf. They forewarned about grave ecological and environmental damage if oil drilling rigs got into methane hydrate areas.

    These reports go back as far as 1999.

  • reverend Money

    Bill Clinton has reportedly said that we can blow up the well and have it close itself off. Apparently Russia has already used small nukes more than once to do that in situations like this. Clinton says it doesn’t require a nuke. It was reported that BP is resisting doing that because they’ll lose their investment. If I didn’t know our government is corporate controlled I’d be questioning this report that BP is making the decision.

  • psychohistorian

    The fruits of fascism.

  • shallwedance


  • Susan Kollins

    It looks like a question mark. The earth is asking, “What did you do to me?”

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