TIME Dmitri Kessel

‘Middle East Oil’: The First Major Magazine Article, Anywhere

Page layouts from the earliest feature any publication anywhere ever published on the Middle East's fraught and lucrative petroleum industry.

Included in this gallery are the page layouts from the earliest feature any publication anywhere ever published on the Middle East’s fraught and lucrative petroleum industry: a massive photo essay in the June 11, 1945, issue of LIFE magazine titled, simply, “Middle East Oil,” that provided (in LIFE’s words) “the first complete look at this fabulous and troublesome part of the world.”

Photographer Dmitri Kessel spent eight weeks traveling and photographing in Iran, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. (“It was so hot,” LIFE informed its readers of the photographer’s time in the desert, “that for periods Kessel could not handle his camera without scorching his hands.”) The result is a remarkable chronicle of a world both familiar and impossibly remote, where preteen dynastic kings, transplanted Texas wildcatters and armies of anonymous workers play out their lives amid the forces shaping the region’s landscape and transforming ancient cultures: the towering oil wells and refineries so colossal they sometimes seem ready to dwarf the desert itself.


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