The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

Instagram has a few core themes: things we buy, trips we go on, food we eat. But the systems that made all those things possible — engines, electricity, long-haul trains, shipping containers — have their own place on Instagram too. And it's wonderful.

GE is the 14th most profitable company in the country. It is a conglomerate of incredible scale and diversity, with operations that range from natural gas refineries to MRI factories. It is not a company that needs to be on Instagram, as it is not marketing million-quid machines to consumers. Yet its account, which now has 179,000 followers, is one of the best things on Instagram.

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Welders work on a Tesla magnet for an MRI machine, by Chris New.

On it you'll find pictures of the inside of wind turbines, the assembly lines where jet engines are made, the fluorescent-lit rooms where aviation equipment is checked, the cockpits where massive cranes are operated. Places you'd rarely see otherwise, but thanks to a GE employee named Katrina Craigwell, are now online.

Craigwell launched the account in 2011 and has built a loyal following, both among fans and photographers. Her job is not only to oversee the account, but to seek out and assign young photographers to visit GE facilities all over the world and bring back photos. As Craigwell told me recently, one of GE's first photographers was Adam Senatori, former pilot and photographer who entered an online contest—the result was a visit to a GE aviation facility where he went nuts "in the best possible way." Now Senatori is a regular on the feed, covering air shows and aviation sites.

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Photographer Chris New shot this GIF of quartz lab glass being made at GE's Schenectady-based Global Research centre.

Craigwell also brings superfans and other photographers on "Instawalks" to GE factories and sites around the country, only some of which make it onto Instagram. The popularity of the project means that followers have begun requesting photos of specific places and parts. "Over time, as more and more people have become aware of it, we've gotten some great recommendations", she says. They're even receiving requests from GE employees themselves, who send tips about points of interest or potential shoots, like a factory where magnets for MRI machines are made, or gas infrastructure in the far north of Norway, shot by photographer Reuben Wu earlier this year.

It's one of those rare instances in which the two circles on the self-interest diagram (corporation and individual) actually overlap and create something it's hard not to like. Very few of GE's followers are in the market for a giant gas turbine. But it turns out that thousands of us want to see how they're made. Check out a few highlights below.

Engine Factories

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

These are crankcases — or the part of the engine that houses the crankshaft — waiting to be assembled into full Crankcases for Jenbacher engines. This photo was taken at GE's manufacturing plant in Jenbach, Austria, by Chris New.

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Shipping Container Sites

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Ever wondered who's actually operating those huge cranes that pack and unpack shipping containers? Here's a photo of an operator's cockpit from Intermodal Terminals' Northwest Ohio facility by Dan Cole. And what's the terminal look like from the outside? Chris New's photo of one crane captures the scale of the operation, which moves containers between trains:

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Wind Turbines

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

A GE technician named Andy Holt was caught climbing a turbine in Massachusetts in the shot above. Meanwhile, LA-based photog Benjamin Heath took this image of a technician climbing over a turbine's edge, below.

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Fluorescent Inspection Rooms

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

A GE employee inspects airplane parts at a North Carolina aviation facility under fluorescent light, which better reveals cracks or weaknesses.

Gas Turbine Factories

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Chris New shot these massive gas turbines on their way out of GE's assembly line in Greenville, South Carolina.

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Airplane Cockpits & Jet Engines

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

That's a GE90 engine being finished up by an employee, shot by Adam Senatori, who also shot the cockpit of Qatar Airways' Dreamliner at the Dubai Airshow below, and the massive engine of a Airbus A380.

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Cold Weather Engine Test Sites

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

In Winnipeg, GE tests its engines for the coldest of conditions, where giant fans blast engines with freezing (-20 degrees C) temperatures and all manner of ice, rain, and everything in between, here shot by Noah Kalina.

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Arctic Refineries

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

 Reuben Wu shot this extraterrestrial-looking landscape near GE's Statoil facility in Hammerfest, Norway. The natural gas refinery itself was captured below by Finn Beales.

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Locomotive Assembly Lines

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

Christopher Talbot shot the Tier 3 Evolution Series locomotive, shown here in the building process, which GE describes as a "220 tonne computer" filled with sensors and data-collecting devices. Below, railroad tracks line the floor of GE's locomotive assembly line in Forth Worth, also shot by Talbot.

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines

According to GE, the plant can build up to six trains a week working with a 36-person team. "There are four stations in Final Assembly that take roughly 6.5 hours each to complete," one shown here in a photo by Sam Horine:

The Strange Beauty of GE's Magnet Factories and Wind Turbines