German photographer Wolfram Schroll recently finished a project for Recyclex, a European recycling and renewables conglomerate. The client needed an industrial photographer with an aptitude for shooting factories and manufacturing facilities. The assignment required someone familiar with technical and mechanical fields — and someone accustomed to the heat of an industrial furnace. After charming the client during a recent project review, Wolfram set out to capture images for their new website, as well as for future promotional use.
The shoot spanned four days and four locations in Germany – Goslar, Langelsheim, Osterwick, and Nordenham. Wolfram went alone to do reconnaissance on the first location. Through production, he was accompanied by his long-time assistant Tina Delia Umlauf.
Recyclex has been a major player in Europe’s economic system. They specialize in the recycling of lead, zinc, and polypropylene and the production of high-purity metals. The company strives to minimize waste and reallocate high-purity metals for better use. In 2018, Recyclex processed 170,000 tons of zinc-rich waste from house roofs, drainpipes, and car bodywork surfaces. Eventually, they were reproducing it in everyday products such as tires, chemicals, or cosmetics.
Wolfram was delighted to transform the dark, gritty underbelly of the metal refining processes into vibrant and striking images. Below, he speaks about the heat, the production line, the workers, and the challenge of producing images of the dark, sometimes menacing machinery that nonetheless evoke a sense of elegance.
This is a dream job, my favorite type of job: to work in a difficult and at first sight completely unphotogenic location. The client’s expectations and wishes were to show a high-quality, professional modern production and [to capture] the products, precious metals like germanium and gallium.
This was not an easy feat. Shooting in the August heat, with interior temperatures soaring over 40° C (104° F) and with sweat pouring over the small buttons and dials on the cameras, Wolfram was able to capture images of hot metal pouring over melting containers and the cooling process of moisture glistening on newly cooled germanium.
Wolfram wore a gas mask, due to the noxious fumes of the refining processes. In the vicinity of the blast furnace, he was required to wear fireproof clothing and gloves.
It’s hot and noisy, and you have to know what you’re doing … You can’t see much through such a mask and can’t see the viewfinder [well]. With the old masks, you often had breathing problems. It doesn’t matter to me though, and I don’t think it disturbs the creative process. It simply belongs to industrial photography, just like a helmet and ear protection belong.
Clearly, being close to the action is what thrills Wolfram. During a previous assignment, he attempted to shoot a large oven using an older camera. The camera began smoking afterward, resulting in cracks in the frame. Wolfram’s response: “Do not imitate.”
All of these complications and challenges are par for the course for an industrial photographer. It comes easy to Wolfram, perhaps because it is in his blood – both of his grandfathers were miners. He also has a deep understanding of the chemical and technical processes that are taking place in the furnace. It is one of the reasons he is able to transform these raw materials into imagery.
It’s often hard work they do, and mostly, I think, it is not appreciated enough—their work. For me, they are the secret heroes in the industry. I am often only working with a company for a short time. I always try to be very polite, explain everything and when I photograph them, I want to see them portrayed with pride and dignity.
The end results are fascinating images of factory workers, chemical processes, and searing hot metals — the metal has tested the mettle and perseverance of the photographer.
My way of photographing, like most industrial photographers, is a 100-percent physical effort. At that moment I’m not even interested in how the photos turned out. I then look afterwards, and it’s almost always perfect. Well, almost always. All this together is what I love so much about industrial photography. Sometimes I think I have to give my customers money to do that. Maybe I’m a little crazy, too.
See more of Wolfram’s work on his website.
Read about Wolfram on our Published blog.
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