The balance between Physics and Photography

16th July 2017
INFN presentation

Looking at this picture you could notice a weird figure at the very left hand side taking pictures of the first 2015 LHC collisions in the Run-2, in the ATLAS Control Room. Well, that's me. 

Since I was young, while I was reading scientific magazines, a passion for photography grew up with me. First I started exploring the world of film photography, the digital technology was not very widespread anyway. Pictures I've done in my 12-13 age were amazingly unwatchable, but my parents never let me give up with it, since I was very young and everything seemed worth

picturing. My first camera was a very cheap one but it seemed to me the best technology human being can have in the photography field. I was very proud of it and I dreamt of dark room, negatives and expositions.

This love for photography has grown with me and together with my passion for physics. As I went ahead with the latter, I always asked myself how these two halves of my personality could meet each other. Will a cross happen at some point?

During the university, I joined many photography courses and practical tutorials that lead me to find (almost) the right way to hold a camera, first of all, to use it and my favourite kind of pictures: portrait and conceptual photography. 

This is something apparently very far from the High Energy Physics and I have been thinking so for many years. What can photography have in common with the study of the performances of the ATLAS muon spectrometer? And with the associated production of the Higgs boson with a top quarks pair? You easily see that photography does not match with what I was studying in that moment. This is something that I have always been struggling with, because I couldn't accept that two of the biggest passions in my life have nothing in common. 

The key point of all this story lays in the ATLAS Outreach group at CERN. When I went there for a two-years permanence, in 2014, I started to interact with this amazing group of creative and active people who are engaged in spreading the physics news and activities around the world. They were looking for a photographer: perfect! I read that mail and I immediately thought: "I'm in!".

So I began the ATLAS Outreach photographer and I was incredibly happy: I finally found the meeting point between Physics and Photography. Pictures of people, events, projects and so on became one of my favourite part of my daily job. Someday I arrived in my office with both my laptop and my camera, and this made me really satisfied.

Thanks to the ATLAS Outreach, I discovered the world of scientific outreach and how photography is extremely important in this field. I learned how much a photograph can be powerful and how to tell stories behind faces. I took pictures of grant ceremonies, events, women in science, young students from many different countries, conferences and different professions in the CERN environment. 


Photography could also be a way to explain some physical concepts through images. During last year (before starting writing my PhD thesis, that ended up in a temporary death of both social life and free time) I started a personal project in order to practice at once my capacity of explaining concepts, taking good pictures and creating something new. What I discovered is that it is extremely easy to interpret a physical concept through shapes, body and colours; it is extremely helpful to translate the physics into something more achievable by "science-outsiders". This was very challenging at the very start, but incredibly interesting and satisfying when people do understand you're talking, for example, about gravity with a given picture. 

So, at the age of 25 years, I finally found a way to merge Physics and Photography in my life and they live in a quiet balance that makes me understand my job is the right one.