Based in Copenhagen, Alastair Philip Wiper was working as a graphic designer and part-time photographer when he experienced a total pivot in his creative life. Discovering the work of late photographers Wolfgang Sievers and Maurice Broomfield, he explains, was ‘a light-bulb moment’. With their cameras, Sievers and Broomfield unveiled a world largely unseen by the wider public: 20th-century big industry. A subject matter Wiper had previously taken to be ‘corporate or boring’ had suddenly became revelatory in his eyes. ‘I saw what an amazing life I would have travelling around the world visiting these awe-inspiring facilities,’ he says, ‘and from that moment I just went 100 per cent after the goal and didn’t look back. It worked out, and led me to places I wouldn’t have dreamed of.’
Fast forward, and Wiper has captured enough of the facilities – production sites for likes of Kvadrat, Bang & Olufsen and Adidas – to compile an entire book’s worth of them, titled Unintended Beauty [for purchase here]. His images are immersive, at times startling, and they engage the viewer in a poignant way, provoking new understandings of space and our relationship to them. During the project, Wiper learned how ‘humans can build the most weird and mind-boggling machines and infrastructures to solve their problems and supply for the needs of other humans’. And he believes that Unintended Beauty in its finished state affirms the value of ‘form follows function’: ‘We seem, as humans, to be intuitively attracted to things that function well and that alone holds a certain aesthetic of its own. From a design point of view, I see this project as a reinforcement of that principle, and a glimpse inside the kind of places that most people just never get to see.’
Preceding an upcoming exhibition at Bordeaux’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs – which will showcase a large-format selection of images from Unintended Beauty – we had a chat with Wiper about his work.
Tell me about your creative process. How do you decide what buildings you want to photograph? What helps you decide the way in which to photograph those buildings?
I have two main sources of inspiration – one is the news, where I can find out about new laboratories, factories and scientific things that are happening, and the other is by looking at what is around me and wondering where it came from. I like the contrast between high-end science, like what is happening at CERN, and the mundane, like a sausage factory. To an outsider like me, these facilities inhabit the same world and are both fascinating man-made structures and infrastructures. One tries answer our questions about the universe and where we come from, and the other provides for our everyday needs and desires. For me, both places say a lot about what it means to be human.
When it comes to photographing the facilities, it is very instinctive
When it comes to photographing the facilities, it is very instinctive. I start by looking at shapes and colours, the graphical elements that are the basis of the picture. Then I look for the content – what is the picture showing, and what does it have to do with what is happening there? I love taking shots of tangles of pipes and wires, but in general I don’t want the images to be too abstract. I also want them to be able to tell a story – there should be a few different layers to an image. If I’m lucky I can see what I want straight away, sometimes I have to work a little harder for the shot and look at things from another angle, which can be equally as rewarding. But I generally find that the easy shots are the best ones.