The Beautiful World Behind the Power Grid

The Photo Blog
April 27 2014 11:04 AM

The Beautiful World Behind the Power Grid

Katrin I, spectrometer, balance of neutrino, 2011

Luca Zanier

The energy industry makes modern life possible, but few ever get to see its inner workings. For his series “Space and Energy,” Zurich-based photographer Luca Zanier spent a year venturing into about 100 power plants, oil tankers, dams, and waste facilities. By showing us inside, he asks us to confront the mysterious and sometimes uncomfortable realities behind our daily existence. “We all depend on electricity, but we close our eyes to the industry behind it. It’s like the fact that most of us love to eat meat, but nobody wants to see the slaughterhouse,” Zanier said via email. “But the world of power plants is a very clean, abstract, technical and aesthetically pleasing one. This might be a surprise. I wanted to provide insight into the fascinating world behind the act of switching on the light.”

Zanier first visited a nuclear power plant in 2009 to see if the aesthetic fit the idea he had for his series. From there, he set about arranging visits to other facilities. “They were all very open to this kind of collaboration. Sometimes it was necessary to wait to get access. Other times I had to hurry,” he said.

Trianel I, coal-fired power plant, interior view of the cooling tower, 2011

Luca Zanier

Beznau I, nuclear power plant, control room, 2011

Luca Zanier

Leibstadt II, nuclear power plant, interior view of the cooling tower, 2009

Luca Zanier

While his work captures a range of impressive technologies, Zanier was interested in the facilities more for their artistic properties than their practical functions. Given only the most basic of captions and placed in series with photos of other rooms that serve vastly different functions, the spaces in Zanier’s photographs take on the look of something not quite real—more science fiction than science. “There are different ways to explore this kind of topic. You can emphasize the technology by focusing on all the intelligent engineering details. You can also highlight the social relevance by pointing out the radiation waste. Or you can apply a very neutral perspective and visualize the aesthetics. Maybe this is provocative, given the subject matter. But all the other approaches are included somehow. To discover them is up to the viewer of the image,” he said.


Did Zanier feel awe, wonder, or terror standing in these vast, complex spaces? “For sure, these sites are very impressive, but usually I was under time pressure. So you think about your plan and the conditions, you take your images and you leave. There wasn’t much time for feelings,” he said.

Zanier’s photographs are collected in the book Power Book: Space and Energy.

Ferrera I
Ferrera I, water power plant, tunnel, 2011

Luca Zanier

Beznau III, nuclear power plant, dosimeter, 2011

Luca Zanier

Split I, interior of an oil tanker, 2009

Luca Zanier

Zwibez III, interim storage for nuclear waste, connecting stairs, 2011

Luca Zanier

Zwilag II, storage for low-radiation and medium-radiation waste, 2008

Luca Zanier



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 19 2014 1:10 PM Ascension Island: Home of Lava Fields, a False Forest, and the World's Worst Golf Course
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.