Recycling #2, Chittagong Bangladesh, 2001 by Edward Burtynsky was part of the exhibit, Edward Burtynsky: Oil at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. ((Edward Burtynsky/Courtesy Adamson Gallery/AP))

An exhibit by an acclaimed Canadian photographer at the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton probes mankind's connection with oil.

Edward Burtynsky: Oil, which opened Saturday, is a series of 55 large-scale photographs that show the places where oil comes from, the cultures that are created from it and how its products deteriorate.

Burtynsky said he was inspired by the role oil plays in everyday life.

"I was looking at the blacktop on the roads and my car itself, and I realized that oil was at the centre of all of this," he said.

"So I began to contemplate, how do I begin to photograph this thing that's invisible but yet at the core of so much of what we do as human beings?"

Burtynsky spent 13 years travelling the world to capture the images for the exhibit, which he sees as a way of inspiring a conversation, not as a judgment on the oil industry.

"I'm trying to reconnect us with a landscape that we're engaged with on a daily basis but we have no idea of its source or where things go," he said.

"So for me, I see it not as a polemic saying 'this is right or this is wrong,' but like an inflection point where dialogue can begin."

The exhibit runs until Jan. 2.