May 2, 2012


Just two days after getting my Fujifilm X-Pro1, I participated to a Belgiumdigital Shooting Day in the southern Antwerp area. Our route partly followed the ‘Expedition Blue Gate Antwerp’ trail, a discovery tour laid out last year through a historically significant but today largely abandoned section of the old harbor (locally known as ‘Petrol South’).


The gear was brand new to me, but coming from the X100 and having read the X-Pro1 manual long before the camera arrived, the basics were well understood. Just a matter then of getting familiar with the latest toy and two of its new lenses.


What’s so special about the old petroleum harbor? In 1863, only four years after drilling the first well in the US, Antwerp already had become the largest and best equipped import harbor for oil products in Europe. It kept that status until 1927, when Hamburg and Rotterdam took over.


At the start of the 20th century, Antwerp moves its focus for oil related activities to the south of the city. An area of 100 hectares is acquired and construction work starts: a 300m long concrete pier, underground pipelines, huge fuel storage tanks…  After only one year of operations a big catastrophe happens: one of the fuel tank ruptures and ignites. Immense fires rage for twelve days and destroy the installations almost completely.
Within the year, the infrastructure is rebuilt and industrial activities resume, and with that, the first complaints about oil leaks and the resulting pollution are recorded.

When World War I erupts, the authorities give the order to set fire to the oil tanks and destroy all infrastructure. The arriving German troops will find only a small part intact. After the war, the expansion of Antwerp’s petroleum harbor resumes. By 1920, no less than 233 oil storage tanks are counted. A final extension is realized in 1934. But the area runs out of space for new plants, and oil tankers have grown to a size that the old harbor can no longer accommodate. During the same  year a first new refinery is constructed in the northern harbor. This is the beginning of the end for ‘Petrol South’…


Today, only a few oil-related companies remain active, the rest of the area is dotted with industrial antiquities and derelict buildings. But the heavily polluted site stands on the brink of a new future: a massive cleanup and reconversion effort has begun to turn this part of Antwerp’s south harbor into the place to be for new sustainable and ecological ventures.


It’s not hard to see that ‘Petrol South’ is a visually rich area and a real treat for photographers. So it did serve as an ideal playground to discover a new camera that by itself represents a unique combination of past and future.

Gear notes: Fujifilm X-Pro1, Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 & 35mm f/1.4

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