Talk about sparking someone’s interest. The hazards of the High Voltage Lab at the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby held a certain charm for photographer Alastair Philip Wiper. “It’s full of devices that to me looked like sculpture,” he says. “You could be in a modern art museum.”
The lab runs tests on commercial products to see how well they cope with real-world power surges and lightning strikes – by delivering jolts of up to 1.2 million volts.
The image above left shows Joachim Holbøll, deputy head of the lab, peering up at the giant impulse generator, which sends a massive electrical discharge between the two spheres. “Big stuff is always cool,” Wiper says. “You can’t help but just go, ‘wow, human beings built this’.”
Wiper likes to contrast the huge and impressive with the small and disregarded. For four years, he has been developing a project with the working title Unintended Beauty, showcasing scientific and industrial objects with overlooked aesthetic appeal. So he was intrigued by the collection of discarded electronic components in Holbøll’s office, such as the GE GL-833A triode (above right). Triode vacuum tubes were the first devices able to amplify electric signals, making it possible to develop appliances like radios and TVs.
But it was the triode’s odd shape rather than its historical importance that caught Wiper’s eye. “I quite like the fact that a lot of people won’t really know what it is,” he says. “It looks like a 50s sci-fi robot or something.”