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



Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.