Photo finish

(Edmonton) Over the four years it took to build the University of Alberta’s newest building, the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, the only person on campus who decided to document the construction in photographs didn’t even own a camera.

Bill Burris, an electronics technician with the U of A’s Department of Physics, came up with the idea in 2006 when it was announced his campus workplace would have to make way for CCIS.

The occasion prompted Burris to buy his first camera, a simple point-and-shoot Canon. His first photo project: taking pictures of the Centre for Subatomic Research as it fell to the wrecking ball.

“I’d always wanted to take up photography,” said Burris. “I also thought this would be a good way to look back and see how things change over time.”

Burris, a U of A employee for more than 30 years, decided to keep clicking away as the campus landscape changed before his eyes. In the course of documenting the construction of CCIS Burris had some bad luck with his cameras.

“I went through a couple of point–and-shoot cameras because I kept stuffing them in my pockets,” said Burris. His first camera received irreparable lens scratches. His second camera suffered a major mechanical failure. “I left it on while it was in my pocket and the gears for the zoom lens burned out,” said Burris.

Burris has some experience with sensitive technical equipment. His day job involves building very complicated electronic equipment for U of A physics experiments. Among the devices Burris has worked on are detectors that measure the near speed-of-light collisions of atoms inside the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Burris has also built electronics for the U of A’s research into dark matter being carried out deep underground in Sudbury, Ontario.

"I really enjoy the variety of work at the university,” said Burris. “It's always challenging to see that the researchers put the equipment to good use."

Making sure his camera’s were put to good use, Burris says he took close to 5,000 pictures of the CCIS project and along the way he learned about the art of photography. “I didn’t really consult the manuals, I just experimented and kept trying to take better pictures,” said Burris.

To look at Burris' CCIS construction photos, click here.