ISSUE 04 | LONDON FOCUS | PHOTO STORY

In the line of beauty

Alastair Philip Wiper loves, lives and breathes manufacturing.

Photography by Alastair Philip Wiper

Factories as art

How did he become such a factory aficionado?

When I started out in photography I was doing portraits and fashion shoots. Then I saw images by Wolfgang Sievers and Maurice Broomfield of post-WW2 industry, and I was completely hooked. I saw a world that I didn’t know existed before. I had always associated ‘industrial’ photography with ‘corporate’ photography, and thought it would be a bit boring. But their work showed me it was fascinating, both artistically and in terms of the amazing things I could see by photographing those kinds of subjects.

I tried to get into anywhere I could, starting with a print workshop run by an old friend of my parents. After that, I just called and called different places, but rarely had any luck.

So I signed up for a public tour of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. I wrote to the PR and asked to see somewhere that the rest of group wouldn’t get access to. They set me up with an engineer, who took me off to different areas. At last – my big break. I went back three more times, and they hired me the fourth time and bought all the pictures.

These personal projects are very different from a commercial shoot – then I had a crew and all the time in the world. Normally it’s just me, and I have to work quickly: a tripod, a camera, a wireless shutter release and small selection of lenses, so I don’t have to think about equipment. If there’s time, I’ll do a quick walkthrough. But normally I just have to start shooting. Now I know what I’m Iooking for: something that’s graphically very interesting, preferably a space or piece of machinery that I can position so that your eyes are drawn to a particular thing. I want people to wonder what the hell it is or what it does. Interesting and a bit crazy. I’m thinking about prints that I sell and hang on people’s walls – they’re going to look amazing but people won’t know what they’re looking at.

Often, I get to talk to the staff – you meet the nicest, warmest, chattiest people inside factories. And I happen to think that a lot of the infrastructures and machinery people build to provide the food, energy, waste disposal, to answer scientific questions, look amazing and beautiful.

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