Beauty is in the eye of the photographer

On Saturday 7 August, over 200 amateur photographers took part in the first “Particle Physics Photowalk”, a photo contest organized by CERN in collaboration with DESY in Germany, Fermilab in the USA, KEK in Japan and TRIUMF in Canada. As of mid-September you will be able to discover on a dedicated website the five particle physics laboratories as seen through the lenses of the participants.


Photographers at the photowalk.

The Photowalk was a unique opportunity for the participants to photograph state-of-the-art accelerators and detectors in all their beauty and complexity. At CERN, the photographers were able to visit and take pictures of Linac4, the Computing Centre, SM18 and CLIC. Photographers came to CERN from Switzerland, France, the UK and Germany (one even came from the USA just for the event). “The 48 places available for the Photowalk at CERN were snatched up within days through the dedicated website”, says Sophie Tesauri from the Communication Group, one of the event's organizers.

But why would a photographer want to photograph a particle accelerator? Yousef Elbes, a Jordanian electronics engineer working in France explained: “As far as I'm concerned, my interest in physics comes before my interest in photography. I am very curious to see the miracles physics can produce in building such impressive machines”.

Whatever their personal motivation, the photographers' eyes were attracted by the shiny metal objects inside the magnets at SM18, the narrow corridors and blinking LEDs in the Computing Centre and the wires in the Linac4 experimental hall. But taking pictures in the experimental halls can also be very challenging from the technical point of view. At SM18, the sunlight, filtered by the large windows on the upper side of the walls, mixed with neon light to give a very subdued lighting, whereas in the Computing Centre the light was strong and definite.

As well as photographing the technical aspects of CERN, the participants seemed to really capture some of the hidden aspects of the Lab’s facilities. “I am a nature photographer, so I’m used to taking pictures of rather different objects”, said Andy Hoppe from Berlin, “but the wires of the CLIC and Linac4 accelerators, as well as their colours and shapes, remind me of nerves and vessels in the human body, and of other organic patterns”.

Diego Giol, an Argentinian engineer, would have preferred to see the LHC, because, he said, “that is the real thing”, even though he admits that “probably the pictures would not have been that different from the ones we are taking today, as in any case we are aiming at details”. Marion Tabeaud from Haute-Savoie, France, had taken part in other events at CERN and said: “I am pleased to have visited something different from the LHC. I will now look for some information about these facilities on the Internet”.

The best pictures taken during the CERN Photowalk will be selected by a committee, and will be shown in an exhibition in the Globe in 2011. An international competition, which will select the best two of all the photos taken in the five laboratories, is also planned. The winning photos will be featured by Symmetry and the CERN Courier. From mid-September, all the pictures taken at the five labs will be published on Flickr.

by Roberto Cantoni