70 miles, 70 gas stations: The variety of 'Oil City'

Story highlights

  • Eugenio Grosso's photo series "Oil City" looks at a stretch of road in northern Iraq
  • Many of the gas stations and pumps are owned by everyday people, not corporations

(CNN)About a month ago, photographer Eugenio Grosso traveled a 70-mile stretch in northern Iraq, from the city of Kirkuk to Sulaymaniyah in the country's Kurdish region.

He had only one purpose: to photograph the gas stations he saw along the way.
    "When I first noticed that there were so many petrol stations concentrated in the same area, I immediately thought that that could be a good way to talk about Iraq," Grosso said over email. "Oil is the main resource of the country and of the region in general. And it's a curse as well. All the wars and conflicts in that part of the world have the same aim -- to control that richness."
    Many of the gas stations Grosso saw are owned by families, not corporations. The driver who accompanied Grosso told him he has an uncle who owns three gas stations. The driver, Grosso said, explained to him that this is quite common and that, in many cases, families will name their gas stations after themselves.
    Photographer Eugenio Grosso (Photo by Mirjana Nedeva)
    "I have never heard anything like that in Europe or other places I have visited," said Grosso, who is Italian. "The fact that those stations belong to normal people and that anyone can open their own gave me the idea of how much oil is in (Iraq), and it explains a lot to me."
    Grosso estimates that he probably came across at least 70 gas stations along the 70 miles.
    He was interested in the contrasts. Some of the gas stations show an atmosphere of decadence -- like photo No. 3 in the gallery above, which Grosso describes as kitsch and golden. And others illustrate something entirely different -- like photo No. 11, which shows cows in the background.
    "When I look at things, one of the aspects that amazes me the most is to find something unexpected in an ordinary context," Grosso said.
    Grosso's time on the road was spent learning and observing, and his photos allow us to do the same.
    "Even though I shot this series quite quickly, each shot has its own background," he said, "and if I look at them, I remember the place and the feelings."

    Social media

    Follow @CNNPhotos on Twitter to join the conversation about photography.

    Oil is of great significance in the Middle East, and many of their countries' economies are heavily dependent on oil revenues. After Saudi Arabia, Iraq is OPEC's second-largest crude oil producer -- and it is home to the fifth-largest crude oil reserves after Venezuela.
    And while the majority of Iraq's oil resources are estimated to be in Shiite areas of the south, there is also a large amount concentrated in the north.
    The city of Kirkuk is particularly important when it comes to oil. One of the major reasons ISIS attacked Kirkuk last year, for instance, is because the city has enormous oil reserves. And after the fall of President Saddam Hussein in 2003, Kirkuk became a disputed territory as the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq and the central government of Baghdad claimed it. The dispute has yet to be settled.
    Grosso titled his photo series "Oil City," which is the name of a gas station located right at the top of a hill upon entering Kirkuk. With his images, he is attempting to highlight an aspect of Iraq that's known but perhaps underrated.
    "It could help a lot to understand the reasons of what is happening in that region," he said.