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The art of projection: Vaughan Brookfield and Tom Lynch

No longer is the modern canvas confined to being flat. Fostered by the advent of powerful projectors and more advanced methods of mapping, large-scale walls, sharp edged buildings and peculiarly-shaped objects have all become receptacles for today’s ambitious creatives. As photographers, designers and directors increasingly dabble in the world of video projection, Jihee Junn talks to three different artists to discover their take on the intersection between technology and visual art. Feast your eyes on the work of Vaughan Brookfield and Tom Lynch. 

THE NAMELESS

Vaughan Brookfield and Tom Lynch

Venturing out into the wilderness with a hi-tech projector and a head full of ideas, Queenstown duo Vaughan Brookfield and Tom Lynch decided to embark on a one-of-a-kind passion project. Combining the photographic eye of the former and the technical nous of the latter, The Nameless embodies not just the intersection between technology and art, but the cross section between man and nature. 

How did the idea for The Nameless come about?

Vaughan Brookfield: We both came up with the idea hanging out one night. We were camping in Purakanui Bay at that stage and looking at some cliffs across the water, and Tom was talking about how these new projectors he had could reach those distances. We talked about the creative idea of what we could project on there and photograph at night. So we did a few test shoots and before you knew it, we started to get the hang of how we could actually create something that was quite different.

How do you go about selecting what kinds of images to project?

Initially, it was just a matter of trying out anything. Since then, it's moved more in the direction of an environmental message. We're starting to look at and create content that relates to the environment around us and the effects we're having on it.

What contributed to your decision to project onto natural surfaces rather than the more common practice of projecting onto urban objects?

I've always been a location photographer so there were a lot of beautiful places that I'd done work in, usually out in natural landscapes. With Tom, he hadn't really projected onto anything like that before, but once he got this new technology, he realised that we could project onto these kinds of surfaces quite well. We were both kind of surprised at what we could get out of it.

So with my skills and Tom’s skills, we thought we'd go out to places that you wouldn't normally take a 25kg projector to see if we could create something that could amaze people a little bit and make them think. Since then, we've developed it so much more and we're now going to get a helicopter to head up to the Tasman glacier to do some more environment-related projections. So it's moving into another stage now.

What methods and technologies do you use to execute The Nameless?

Tom uses a Christie projector which is one of the leading brands in projection out there. I think it’s something like 12,000-14,000 lumens and weighs about 25kg. It’s also got all these different types of lenses that you can put on depending on how far you want to project. It's a very powerful projector, so we can be 30 or 40 metres away from a surface and it can still project high detail images onto that surface. We also usually have a laptop plugged in and a screen set up where we can look at what we're doing. Depending on the surface, we'll have a dozen ideas or images that might work because you just never really know what's going to work until you're out there and you try it out. Some light and colours show up a lot better than others.

I shoot on a Canon 1DX which is top of the line in terms of low light digital photography, so it works really well in dim evening light. There's a window just after the sun goes down or before the sun rises, that dawn/dusk period, where I can match the natural surrounding light with the projected light quite well and make it look all seamless. So it's all about that little window.

What are some of the challenges of working in a medium that’s creative and artistic, but also requires a lot of technical thought and rigour? Especially since this particular project requires you to be in an outdoor environment?

We try and keep it pretty simple with the projections. We generally don't spend a whole lot of time mapping the objects that we're projecting onto because we've got such a short window of time and we've got so many different images that we want to project on there. Usually, we can get a reasonably good projection without mapping out the surface.

We’re also working in extreme environments, so most of the time the challenge is just warming up the projector and making sure everything works. It’s set to be negative 20 degrees (up on the Tasman glacier), so it’s going to be interesting because these projectors are designed to work at certain temperatures.

There are a lot of little things that could go wrong when you're out there. If something's not working, it's not like you can just pop down and get a new cord or download the software off the internet. For this next mission, we're not even going to have cellular reception. Technology's not really designed to be in those environments, but it's good to push the limits and see what they can endure.

What do you think is unique about projection mapping that doesn’t exist in other forms of exhibiting art? For example, on the walls of a gallery or through a digital screen?

From my point of view, it’s really interesting because projection mapping seems like such a new technology to me, especially projection mapping on such a large scale. I guess it gives people who want to be creative the opportunity to do things at a large scale but not have to leave a footprint. You don’t have to paint a big billboard or print out a whole lot of large format imagery—you’re just projecting light for a short period of time.

Lastly, what’s in store for the project’s future?

We're just letting things organically evolve. We're both busy with our commercial work and this is more of a passion project. But it's awesome. People are really getting behind it and companies are keen to get involved and help us create interesting things that can push the limits. This next project is quite a big one for us. We need to get permits to fly up there and we have to get all this camping equipment and wear harnesses and use ice axes. We've developed our ideas a bit more and now, it's not just about just making it work, it's about sending out a message.