The Beating Heart of a Glacier

by Inga Yandell

Have you ever seen a heart beating on a glacier, in pitch-black arctic darkness?

This is exactly what commercial photographer Vaughan Brookfield brought to life, in the latest installment of his series titled The Nameless Project. Canon Australia is excited to launch Vaughan’s stunning series through its ‘Show Us What’s Possible’ platform that supports professional photographers in turning their ideas into reality.

Vaughan takes us on a journey through Tasman Glacier on New Zealand’s South Island where he seeks to raise awareness of man’s impact on the planet, evidenced by the drastically vanishing ice sheet.

The project consisted of a four-day expedition, where Brookfield and light projectionist Tom Lynch projected stunning visuals onto the glacier. The imagery was shot using the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II DSLR camera and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lenses, and was carefully chosen to highlight the dramatic reduction of Tasman Glacier over the past ten years.

To reinforce their message of environmental threat, the duo projected imagery, using the Canon XEED WUX6010 projector, of a heart beating onto the glacier, bringing it to life. The still projections were then captured by Brookfield and documented by filmmaker Heath Patterson using Canon’s EOS C300 Mark II cinema camera.

Vaughan’s images reflect a new creative frontier—integrative art installations which employ conceptual imagery as a tool for conservation. Projecting photos of nature in our cities is a popular form of urban art, but Vaughn’s concept reverses this on a much grander scale—casting a vision of human impact onto a melting glacier to capture a photograph which strongly evokes a connection and responsibility to nature.

The artists vision in his own words…

Why did you call this photographic series ‘The Nameless Project’, especially given the concepts strong environmental message?

We started projecting imagery a few years ago now, and at first we were just doing it to see what we could create with the projectors. People started to love our work and asked us what it was called. We didn’t have a name so we just called our work ‘The Nameless’ and it stuck.

What inspired the concept of integrating projected imagery onto a glacier?

We had been projecting on to natural landscapes for some time and a glacier had been in the back on my mind for a while. For projecting in the natural environment we need a flat vertical surface that’s dramatic to make it all work. I had done location work on the glaciers before and knew it was a perfect place to bring this project to life and send the right message.

What made the Tasman Glacier in New Zealand the perfect location to highlight our human footprint?

I visited the Tasman Glacier in New Zealand when I was a kid and I was astounded at how far back the glacier had receded. I hope in choosing the Tasman Glacier as the location for our adventure we can remind people of the effects humans are having on the environment.

What were the practicalities of bringing your concept to life?

I captured these images by projecting still images and moving animations onto the landscape, then once the light was perfect, I shot using a Canon 1DX Mark II and Canon 24-70 2.8mm and Canon 70-200 2.8mm. At an altitude of 2,200 metres, our campsite was ferociously cold. We were lucky to get a solid good weather window for 24 hours as it was constantly changing. Night time temperatures drop to below -13C, making it difficult to keep the water in our drink bottles from freezing, let alone trying to run projectors that were made to be used indoors. So many things could have gone wrong but we got extremely lucky. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time one of these large projectors would have been taken out onto a glacier at 2,200 meters altitude in -13 degrees C.

Have you pioneered an original form of photography with this method?

No, I don’t think so. People have been using projectors in photography for a while now. A big part of creating photographs is light, so a light projector is a great tool to have. I haven’t seen anyone use them the way we have and we are trying to be original with our work.

Which photo best reflects your vision, and embodies the story you hope to tell?

The best photo from this incredible adventure was capturing the projection of a beating heart. It conveys a strong direct message that the glacier is alive which ties back to exactly what we want to depict.

How do you foresee conceptual photography evolving?

I think in general there are more and more creatives out there doing amazing work. Who knows how conceptual photography will evolve, but I’m sure people will keep pushing the limits and creating more interesting and intriguing work.

The project is part of Canon’s ‘Show Us What’s Possible’, what possibilities does your project reveal?

This was quite a challenging project technically. We need really powerful projectors that are only just becoming available on the market, and cameras capable of operating in low light, to make this work. We have to push all the equipment to its limits in this environment. We are trying to extend the boundaries and create interesting works that are original.

What equipment and techniques did you use to produce the series?

I shot using a Canon 1DX Mark II and Canon 24-70 2.8mm and Canon 70-200 2.8mm. My friend and projectionist Tom used the Canon XEED WUX6010 projector. While we were shooting it took a lot of work to look after our gear; cameras were pushing really high ISO, meaning they were extremely sensitive to the light and projectors were running at ridiculously low temps.

How is Canon and this platform helping innovate conservation and visual-storytelling?

It is great having Canon back us on this project. They gave me complete creative freedom, they are not just in it to promote their brand. Chris and the team there have been very supportive and helpful. They let me tell my story in the way I wanted, and I feel that comes through in the short film we created.

What do you love about Canon (equipment, support, innovation)?

I have been using Canon equipment for a long time now. Their cameras are perfect for a lot of my work. The 1DX is amazing in low light and can handle the harsh conditions I shoot in. It’s a workhorse and performs so well, and you can capture those magic moments in low light without having to worry about quality loss.

Brookfield’s short documentary film on creating his installation can be viewed online on the Canon Stories website, along with a gallery of these breathtaking images.

Australia and New Zealand based professional image makers are urged to be part of ‘Show Us What’s Possible’ by submitting an idea to Chris Macleod, Pro Marketing Manager via pro@canon.com.au. For details, please visit: canon.com.au/possible

For more information, visit: canon.com.au

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
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