Trick of the light: The artists making magic on New Zealand's landscape

by Mike White / 24 January, 2017
ArticleGalleryModule - Trick of the light

In the fleeting window between dusk and nightfall, magic is being made on landscapes of spectacular natural beauty. 

It was late one evening in January beside the Shotover River, and Tom Lynch and Vaughan Brookfield had no idea what they were doing. None at all. Just a bunch of expensive equipment and a heap of creativity.

In the dying light, Lynch beamed images from a projector in his van onto a rock face across the river, while Brookfield took photos. By the time they packed up and headed home, it was completely dark and they didn’t know whether they’d captured anything interesting. But when they downloaded the photos, they were stunned by one picture, a ghostly image of a girl framed by rocks and river, and realised they were on to something.

Tom Lynch

“That shot was a complete fluke,” admits Lynch. But it was enough to convince them to continue
with the idea of projecting visuals onto natural backdrops, creating other-worldly images in the wild.

Lynch, 30, owns Queenstown company TomTom Productions, which provides sound and light shows at public and corporate events; Brookfield is a commercial photographer.

When Lynch purchased some new portable projectors, he started thinking about using them amongst the region’s celebrated scenery. After years of creating extravaganzas for clients, he wanted to do something artistic for himself, and Brookfield immediately understood what he was getting at.

So the pair began travelling to remote locations with a laptop, generator, projector and camera to experiment at dusk. They’ve put moa on the cliffs around St Bathans, ethereal arms stretching up waterfalls, telephone boxes in forests, and skulls on an isolated rock obelisk.

“The thing is, you only have a 15-minute window,” Lynch says. “You have all the set-up and driving time, and then you wait and wait and wait, until just when the sun’s gone down far enough. You’ve got to have enough ambient light for the backdrop, but it’s got to be dark enough to see the projector. So it’s pretty much 15-20 minutes of us yelling at each other and it’s just chaos while we’re trying to set up a composition.”

Occasionally, people have seen them working and been intrigued. However, Lynch says they prefer to work unseen – if you don’t know how the images were created, it adds to their mystique.

For both Lynch and Brookfield, it’s been a chance to try something creative, outside the strictures imposed by clients during their day jobs. Unsure exactly where they were going with the project, they also struggled to come up with a name for their collaboration, so labelled it The Nameless.

“We’re letting it grow organically and just seeing what happens. But we really haven’t even scratched the surface,” says Lynch. He has ideas of projecting stop-motion videos, live performances, and composing music to accompany them. But not everyone grasps what they’re trying to do. Lynch is occasionally asked why they don’t just use Photoshop to digitally manipulate the images. “Yeah, you could do that, but that’s boring, isn’t it? Anyone could do that, and it will never look the same as this.”

And that unpredictability and spontaneity is at the heart of their work. The pair can arrive somewhere with plenty of ideas and intent, but until they start projecting images, they simply have no idea what will work, given the innumerable variables of light and location that come into play. “Every decent shot we get is just a happy accident.”

This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of North & South.
Follow North & South on on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and sign up to the weekly e-mail.

Latest

Should we bring our fallen soldiers home?
90004 2018-04-25 00:00:00Z Television

Should we bring our fallen soldiers home?

by Fiona Rae

One of our most successful writers visited six countries to speak to the families of those buried in Commonwealth war graves.

Read more
This may be the most beautiful natural history documentary ever
90022 2018-04-25 00:00:00Z Television

This may be the most beautiful natural history doc…

by Fiona Rae

Will Smith and Darren Aronofsky come together to create a jaw-dropping documentary about Planet Earth.

Read more
Lest they forget: Anzac books for children and young readers
90033 2018-04-25 00:00:00Z Books

Lest they forget: Anzac books for children and you…

by Ann Packer

In time for Anzac Day, books for younger readers make war stories easy to digest.

Read more
Scout cafe owner Roger Liu opens Woolfy’s, a new place to eat in east Auckland
90050 2018-04-24 14:22:44Z Auckland Eats

Scout cafe owner Roger Liu opens Woolfy’s, a new p…

by Kate Richards

East Auckland gets a new cafe, Woolfy's, from the brains behind Scout in Torbay.

Read more
How to find your family's Anzac history online
90042 2018-04-24 13:16:14Z History

How to find your family's Anzac history online

by Peter Griffin

As Anzac Day looms there’s an opportunity to delve into millions of World War I documents, which are available for a limited time.

Read more
Grey District's retiring mayor Tony Kokshoorn, the accidental author
90027 2018-04-24 11:31:52Z Profiles

Grey District's retiring mayor Tony Kokshoorn, the…

by Clare de Lore

Grey District's long-serving mayor, Tony Kokshoorn, is retiring from politics next year. We look back at a 2016 profile from the Listener archives.

Read more
The Australian Government has gone to war with itself
89860 2018-04-24 00:00:00Z World

The Australian Government has gone to war with its…

by Bernard Lagan

Sydney swelters and the ruling Liberal Party is bitterly divided between progressives and pro-coal conservatives.

Read more
Why Witi Ihimaera wants New Zealand to bring its war dead home
89883 2018-04-24 00:00:00Z Profiles

Why Witi Ihimaera wants New Zealand to bring its w…

by Clare de Lore

Witi Ihimaera's journey to Commonwealth war graves for a new documentary, In Foreign Fields, is both personal and political.

Read more