by Polly Bennett. Published: 17 February 2012

With camera and tripod poised delicately in front of him, Antonio Saba is set up on the visitor platform overlooking ALICE like a film director. He spreads his arms wide and gestures directions to the people below. ALICE staff obligingly clamber amongst the machinery and assume ‘working’ positions before the camera gives an enormous flash.

As an industrial photographer Saba is challenged with bringing this mass of inert and inanimate cables, metal, and machinery to life. “My approach is not a scientific one. I am not a physicist, I am an artist. I try to capture the beauty of the machine. My aim is not to reproduce the reality, instead I interpret.” Saba has become a kind of official photographer for ALICE. Since 2006 he has chronicled the installation of the ALICE detectors through still photography. “The first three years I came here about 6 or 7 times a year. The experiment was developing and I had to take pictures of the major steps.” During his shoot this winter Saba’s main objective is to produce an up-to-date flagship image of ALICE with the newly installed TRD and EMCal modules.

Polly Bennett

Antonio Saba (centre) in the ALICE Cavern

Saba’s focus is the beauty of technology. “I always see ALICE as a crab, with the doors.” He gestures towards the open magnet doors and laughs. To create a powerful panorama of this view, the doors prominently structuring the shot, Saba makes strong use of lighting. On his iPad he shows me some of the raw shots he took that morning, with the detector harshly lit from inside by its own white strip lights. He then shows me a post-produced image with the white light substituted for blue. The resulting scene is more ethereal than the reality; the cavern and its mechanical contents appear less stark and instead more mystical.

Antonio Saba/ALICE

One of Saba's final images

“I can understand only shapes and colours; not the technology. What are often beautiful are the dimensions and shapes of technology. I try to distort these to make them more interesting, using contrast to exaggerate dimensions and proportions.” He flips through images on the screen to demonstrate. “I also put the focus where I want the eye to go and keep the other parts of the shot blurred.” Saba’s overall images are complex layers of raw and post-produced shots. “In industrial you have a lot of freedom. I can transform what I see into something else. I don’t have to reproduce reality like in architecture or something, so it’s a lot of fun.”

Saba’s inspiration comes more from fine art than other industrial photographers. “I took inspiration from Andy Warhol’s use of colour. Although he’s not my favourite artist, his Pop Art matches with what I shoot. I was also inspired by Jackson Pollock when I took some pictures of an industrial water plant. The water made different patterns when it was dripping, like a Pollock work. Also sometimes I’m inspired by the movies, even commercial ones like The Matrix. Some of the previous shots I took at ALICE were of fibre optics and they have this shape.” He demonstrates, moving his hands in waves through the air. “I thought they looked like the jelly things from The Matrix. I don’t have any clue about science, so I just take inspiration from somewhere to make a form and give it something nice.”

Saba explains that much of the industrial complexes he shoots are unattractive. “They are ugly, really grey and dirty.” This is why he uses many coloured lights to obscure what he doesn’t like about a scene. However, to Saba, ALICE is different. “This place is huge. I’m not doing a lot of corrections, just using [blue] lights. It’s already beautiful.”


Visit Saba’s website for examples of his industrial and travel photography.

Saba’s shots will be used for ALICE communication material showing the experiment with the newly installed TRD and EMCal modules.

ALICE members are free to use the photographs for non-commercial purposes but must credit the copyright to Antonio Saba for CERN. For media and commercial use please contact Antonio Saba directly:

Saba has produced a book of his favourite ALICE shots, ‘One Millionth of a Second After The Big Bang’. This can be bought for 30 CHF from the ALICE secretariat.