Luther Caverly: Picturing Dark Matter
Around a year ago Ontario-based photographer Luther Caverly was on a job shooting researchers at Carleton University when the client asked if he would be interested in photographing SNOLAB, a subterranean science facility focused on studying sub-atomic and dark matter physics. How could he say no?
As one of the Canadian universities that oversee SNOLAB, Carleton wanted Luther to create a library of photographs to showcase the various goings-on in the facility. Access to the facility is limited, and there was a lot of red tape to cut through, so it took many months for Luther and his contacts at the university to line everything up and get the green light.
At seven in the morning on the shoot day, Luther and his assistant arrived at the site and began their journey underground. Located in an active nickel mine and positioned two kilometers (1.24 miles) underground, SNOLAB is one of the deepest research facilities in the world. Luther boarded a steel cage elevator and descended into the earth with about 40 miners headed to work. When they reached the bottom of the chasm, they lugged their gear on foot for another mile or so, through the mine towards the lab entrance. While planning what to bring on the shoot, Luther and his assistant had to pack as little as possible and provide a list of equipment to the mining company for approval beforehand.
We weren’t allowed to take anything with sending and receiving functions, so laptops, cell phones, and even pocket wizards were out. The ground is rocky, uneven and wet, so any type of pushcart was also unavailable. We ended up packing our gear into portaging bags because they are air tight and keep extra dirt out as well.
When they reached the official entrance of SNOLAB, it was time to hit the showers. SNOLAB adheres to strict cleanroom standards, so foreign particulates can't contaminate the experiments. This meant that everything and everyone had to be thoroughly cleaned before gaining access.
The lab employs a team of professional cleaners that put all our gear through what they call the “Carwash.” During that process, they had us remove our mining safety gear and shower. On the clean side of the showers, we were provided with socks, underwear, shirts, shoes, coveralls, and hard hats.
Once everyone was clean, the shoot could officially begin. They moved from location to location at a relatively slow pace because of the massive size of the complex. The group was also required to stay with a guide who helped navigate them to their shoot locations. Luther and his assistant tried to keep each setup pretty simple to maximize their time in each spot. But with all the procedures getting in and out of the lab, plus moving around within it, they didn't have a lot of time.
Through all of that, Luther had an amazing time on the shoot. He marveled at scope and nature of the experiments going on in SNOLAB.
It was amazing to see all these large, complicated machines developed over many years by teams of people, to observe and measure the tiniest little atoms. Thinking about how these experiments could answer grand questions about our universe is a bit mind blowing.
One of Luther's favorite parts of photography is the opportunity it affords him to step into the day-to-day life of people and places he might not have gotten to see otherwise. His experience at SNOLAB was no different.
The client gave Luther great feedback on the images he created. And now that he's familiar with SNOLAB, it's likely that Carleton University will send him there again to really dig into specific research projects and the people involved.
See more of Luther at lutherphoto.com and be sure to check out our other members on our Find Photographers page!