Earlier this month, after two years of maintenance and preparation, the Large Hadron Collider—the world’s largest, most powerful particle accelerator, responsible for discovering the Higgs boson—was turned back on at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The monumental machine lives in a tunnel hundreds of feet underground and stretches 17 miles in a loop, crossing the border between Switzerland and France. It can easily be explained by dissecting its name: it’s a large (to say the least) machine that collides (smashes head-on, if you will) two beams of hadrons (subatomic particles).
Recently, Alastair Philip Wiper was commissioned by CERN to photograph the division of their technology department that is responsible for steering the particle beams around the Large Hadron Collider or LHC. The assignment was a dream come true for the Copenhagen-based industrial photographer, who had visited CERN headquarters twice before to shoot personal work: in 2012 after writing to the press office and asking to see “anything at all,” then again in 2013 after receiving an offer to “show him some cool stuff,” from the senior engineer who had been his host the year before.
It was obviously a huge honor, I would have previously only dreamed of being commissioned by CERN—they have staff photographers working there, so the fact they wanted to pay me to travel there and do it my way made me very happy … I often generate my own work by approaching companies and institutions that I want to work for. It works very well for me because it means I can concentrate on the things that interest me, and I often get hired on my terms, to do-what-I-do without much of a brief.
Alastair dove head first into industrial photography a few years ago after having a “light bulb moment” while looking at work from photographers who were covering big industry in the ’50s – ’70s:
I had previously been doing some fashion stuff, fine art, portraits, but was looking for something to get my teeth into and find a sustainable career. When I saw their stuff, a whole world that I hadn’t really considered just came alive, and I decided to just focus 100 percent on that area, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
Alastair’s style emphasizes the greatness of the machines he photographs, and gives a unique look at the inner workings of the facilities. He says he wants to make his subjects look as epic as possible, while still being graphically appealing with an artistic aesthetic.
My biggest challenge whenever I visit CERN is to try and get images that are halfway as good as the series that Simon Norfolk did there in 2008. I still haven’t gotten close, but in my defense he was there at a time when everything was still under construction so could get access to all these amazing angles that are completely inaccessible now.