Earlier this year I was assigned to photograph Project Breathe for Microsoft. Project Breathe is a smartphone-based solution which allows people with cystic fibrosis to monitor their health at home with devices that measure key indicators such as lung function, blood oxygen levels and activity. That data is then stored in the cloud and can be accessed by clinicians on a dashboard using Power BI, Microsoft’s data visualisation platform, to look for trends and determine when patients are becoming unwell. By tracking their own data, patients can intervene earlier and potentially head off serious, lung-damaging infections.
The solution was developed through a consortium involving Microsoft, the U.K.-based Cystic Fibrosis Trust, the University of Cambridge, Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, Microsoft Research and Magic Bullet.
I wanted to capture the human side of the project and show how the tech was improving people’s lives. The problem was that as we were discussing the photography the world changed and the UK went into lockdown. How do you photograph during a pandemic which is shielding the most vulnerable, when the assignment requires photographing people with cystic fibrosis in various locations including hospitals?
There was an initial thought that we should postpone the story but then realised that the lockdown was not going away and that Project Breathe became even more important to capture. The fundamental concept of the idea was to reduce hospital visits and try and have each person monitor, understand, and manage their condition.
The pandemic meant that there was a new risk to anyone visiting a hospital with cystic fibrosis, and hospitals were now under great pressure to reduce visits that were not Covid 19 related.
I spent time talking with everyone involved to learn as much as I could about how they were part of Project Breathe, and in the cases of those with cystic fibrosis, how they were using the tech.
It was an incredibly inspiring project to photograph and I enjoyed spending time with everyone involved. I have also been pleased at the initial response with a great retweet and comment from Satya Nadella
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Two years ago, Microsoft approached me for an assignment in Orkney Scotland, to photograph the deployment of Project Natick, an underwater datacenter. Frustratingly I had to decline because I was due to have a minor operation a couple of weeks before.
In June I was contacted with the news that Microsoft would be retrieving the vessel shortly and would I be able to capture it? They had me at “Orkney”!
Project Natick is Microsoft’s research into the feasibility of an underwater datacenter – it’s a pretty far out concept to begin with, but the more you learn about it the more you begin to see the genius behind it.
A sealed vessel on the ocean floor does not have any of the issues that the equivalent land datacenter does, with corrosion from oxygen and humidity, temperature fluctuations, and bumps plus jostles from technicians who monitor and replace broken components.
Project Natick also supports Microsoft’s sustainability goals with the vessel in Orkney consuming no water for cooling and being powered by renewable energy sources.
I worked with Spencer Fowers and Mike Shepperd, alongside the Natick team and Microsoft News, with Photobanks supplying all the photography, film and drone photography.
To read more about Project Natick check out
One of the projects that I photographed with Microsoft last year was Station B.
Microsoft is creating a platform and bringing together partners to program biological systems, essentially understanding how to program cells like we program computers and eventually control how a cell behaves. Instead of programming in 1s and 0s researchers are using the building blocks of DNA to write “programs” that could, for instance, help a cell recognize and attack cancer. This can open doors to new treatments, drugs, cures and materials. The industry holds huge promise but still faces a number of challenges.
Microsoft is leveraging its expertise in programming and research to develop systems with state of the art programming languages, algorithms and machine learning methods to program cells; something few companies have the capabilities and research infrastructure to do.
Microsoft is partnering with researchers at Princeton University in the US and two UK companies – Oxford BioMedica, which focuses on gene and cell therapy, and Synthace, which develops scientific software – as it develops the new system, called Station B.
The project is featured in the Financial Times