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

by Mike White / 24 January, 2017

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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.
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