Behind the Cover: The Future of Oil

Kenji Aoki for TIME
Kenji Aoki for TIME
Kenji Aoki photographed oil for this week's TIME magazine. In this gallery, he reveals the process of making the images.

To prepare for this picture, representing the power of oil, crude oil was poured into a balloon. The balloon was pierced, and at the moment of the explosion, created the splash.

Environmentalists like to say that we’re addicted to oil, but that term doesn’t go far enough. An addict can survive without drugs or alcohol, even if the withdrawal would be painful. But modern society as we know it would end tomorrow without oil. Oil literally makes our world go, from the lawnmower to the supersonic jet. If coal becomes too expensive, we can generate electricity with natural gas or nuclear or renewables. If beef is too costly, we can eat chicken. But there is no real replacement for oil, which is why we depend upon it so much—and why we hate ourselves for that dependence.

Kenji Aoki for TIME

Before

Kenji Aoki for TIME

...and after.

Photographer Kenji Aoki captured the power of oil in a series of photographs shot for this week’s TIME cover. For one photograph, Aoki poured unrefined Texas crude into a balloon, shooting the moment it exploded. In another, Aoki poured the oil along the inside wall of a clear bowl, and shot it as the oil glided down to collect at the bottom. Aoki captures the essence of oil, a substance that all of us need yet few of us see in its pure form, fresh from the ground.

Read More: The Truth About Oil

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CARNIVORE’S DILEMMA PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated November 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof. No copying, distribution or archiving permitted. Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited. REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM. Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing. Mandatory usage requirements:1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image © Brian Finke/National Geographic2. Show the November cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image - you do not have to show the cover3. Provide a prominent link to: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/meat/4. Mention that the images are from "the November issue of National Geographic magazine”Beef is big in Texas. Last year in the state, ten times as many calves were born, 3.85 million, as human babies.At the Big Texan in Amarillo—which offers free rides in a longhorn limo—you get your 72-ounce steak for free ifyou finish it in under an hour, along with the shrimp cocktail, the baked potato, the salad, and the roll.

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