The ALICE Experiment

Industrial Photography is one of my biggest passions. I worked in the field since the early 90’s, shooting for more than a hundred companies in Italy. The lessons learned from another industrial photographer, Italian-American Edward Rozzo, played an essential role in my formation. My sources of inspiration are to be found mostly on last century artists and painters; Andy Warhol’s use of colors, some Kandinsky composition rules, and Italian futurism.

a_saba-trdAnother decisive step in my career was my trip to China in 2000, during which I closely studied the work of certain Chinese photographers and then tried to understand the techniques they used in their work. I was surprised to discover they used the edge of the circle of definition in the image as a part of the picture itself. From then on, I also frequently left that area visible. All this brought myself to show my first personal exhibition in 2003, “Visionarya Industrya” where I showcased my best pictures of this first ten years of Industrial Photography shootings, soon followed by “The Beauty of Physics” in 2005, and “Antonio Saba’s Vision of Lithuanian Food Factories” for the Lithuanian government.

This exhibits gained an international resonance and brought my work to the attention of CERN (European Center of Nuclear research).


In October 2005 CERN (European Center of Nuclear research) gave me the assignment to shoot the final steps of the assembling of one of the biggest nuclear experiments ever tried, the ALICE Experiment, in which the very first moments of the universe’s existence are reconstructed through the collision of ions in a 27 km. tunnel in which for an instant, and in infinite space, the temperature is a hundred thousand times higher than at the heart of the sun. In fact The ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) Experiment aims to recreate the situation as it was one millionth of a second after the Big Bang.

In these four years (October 2005-June 2008) I went to Geneva almost once a month to shoot my project. The ALICE scenario is a cavern, some hundred meters under the ground level, where the main character is a huge red magnet in which, time after time, the scientists fit the several machines (detectors).


I decided to shoot the whole thing in film; Velvia 100, with my 4″x5″ view camera and my Hasselblad. I still love film and use it when time and budget allow it. I then scan it myself with an Imacon virtual drum scan.

I always picture the final image in my head before starting framing with my camera, and achieve 90 percent of the final effect with the actual shot. I use post production and Photoshop only to tune up the final colors and a little cleaning. With my view camera I use some extreme tilt and shift techniques, this way I can have narrow focus, diagonal blades, and extreme deformation of the real proportions in order to add drama and mystery to the subjects in the pictures. Sometimes I tilt as much as the edge of the circle of definition shows up- I love the texture where the image was born. Most of the time I use many flashes to enlighten and/or fill in the shot. My lights always have colored gels to give the pictures nice color contrasts.


The lenses I used for most of this series were the Schneider Super Angulon XL 90/5.6, and the Schneider 180/5.6 Apo Symmar. These two lenses covered most of my needs. The view camera I use is a Toyo VX125. I used the Hasselblad when I needed a more handy camera, especially when I had people posing in the shot and did not need tilting effects.

Usually each shot at CERN took 2-3 hours since the lights were hidden in the machines and radio controlled. My process consisted of the following: first, I observed the scenario without looking in the camera and determined the layout, then frame, lights, tilting, tune up with Polaroids and finally shoot on film.

My final goal is to have beautiful and dramatic pictures, and not necessarily reproducing the reality when shooting industrial or science. I think that, when thinking of these kinds of environments, we all have in mind colored, iconic pictures. In the reality these environments are mostly white and grey and not so fascinating.

a_saba-zdcIn the blue picture of the TPC, the machine was in a white room, and the machine’s original color was metallic grey. I used a blue gelatin flash bounce towards the room’s wall and an amber one in the tunnel inside the machine, giving a different flavor to the final shot.

In the shot of the red magnet I tried to give life to the machine imagining it as a huge crab, the deformation was intended to show the doors like the crab’s claws. The optical fibers shot (ZDC) was inspired by the movie “Matrix” and by the movement of the Jellyfish-like machines in that movie. The TRD shot shows (in my crazy mind) the back of a giant insect and the worker is about to climb on it. The TOF shot shows this electronic snakes curiously watching us.

About the Author

Antonio Saba

Antonio, based in Milan and Cagliari, is a  photographer specializing in adverising. His clients include Seabourn Yachts, agency Zimmerman Miami, The country of Costa Rica, Agency BBDO Garnier, Playteam Milan, Tiscali and many others. He shoots for magazines like In Viaggio, Gente Viaggi, Natural Style, Bon Appetit, Town and Country, the Kee Magazine, The Peninsula Magazine and few others. His most recent books are “one millionth of a second after the big bang” and “Sardegna, Paste della Tradizione”.


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