February 2013

Projection imagery – taking my photographs into a new dimension

February 20, 2013

Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to pen and photograph a feature for the current issue of Mountain Life magazine.  Mountain Life is a west coast culture magazine, which I have worked with for many many years.  The first feature I ever penned was with them (on a surf exploration – camp trip), and I continue to enjoy working with their team.  The current issue is ‘the Photography Issue’, so it is ideally the best issue to ink a feature in as a photographer.   I think the editor (Feet Banks) and I went back and forth a good five plus times to get this piece how we wanted it, but in the end it flows with two narratives, both helping explain the mindful thought behind these pictures.  Here is the piece:

Table of Contents - Raph Bruhwiler, Vancouver Island, BC - Ikelite/Stand Film

Photography is magic. Certainly there is a science behind it, and a history – photographic experiments with pinhole cameras date back to the fourth and fifth centuries – but the way a photo freezes time forever, all the ideas and premeditation of the photographer coming to fruition with the pressing of a shutter button… to me, that’s magic. And the great thing about magic, just when you begin to understand how it works, there’s always a new trick waiting in the shadows.


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A creek flows through my backyard, it inspires me at unexpected times and has been the subject of more than a few off-season photo experiments. The creek helps me slow down and think. This past autumn as the forest filled in with rich colours and my workload conveniently dried up to a trickle I revisited an idea I had been rattling around for a while. The only reason I hadn’t tried it yet was simply that I hadn’t tried it yet, and that’s a pretty bad reason.   I grabbed a digital projector and a headlamp and headed for the creek.


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As photographers we twist dials and turn knobs to capture light, colour, shape –things we can never grasp with our bare hands alone. By changing the composition and framing, focal length and exposure the photograph, and resultantly what is portrayed, will also change. No two images will ever be the same yet each is able to provoke ideas in a viewer that may not have otherwise existed.

Whether it is slide film chemically recording actual particles of light or a modern digital CCD (charge-coupled device) converting those incoming photons to electron charges, one concept of photography has remained constant: to represent and share the three-dimensional world in two dimensions. But viewing a 2D representation of the 3D world has never felt fully satisfying to me and I’ve been trying to find that lost dimension for a while now. I think I found it in the woods down by the creek in my own backyard.


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It took four electrical cords linked to cover the 50 metres across my yard, down the bush, over a calm section of the creek and into my first projection site. There are few scenes darker than a moonless November night in BC but I managed to stumble-haul my loose kit of a projector, laptop, tripods, and camera through the forest – and only once slipped on the old 20cm–wide “bridge.”  Even with power cables plugged in and devices connected, I wasn’t overly optimistic about the idea of re-shooting my own photos projected onto logs, leaves, trees and rocks. A lot of things can easily go wrong. Is this a waste of time? Is it stupid? If this was cool wouldn’t someone have already done it? Should I just go back inside and avoid the bear that is probably lingering nearby? The creek answered me by continuing to gurgle along as it always did, blanketing all other thoughts in blissful white noise.

I got back to work.

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For me, conventional photography consists of three major steps: premeditation of the image to be captured, the actual image capture, and post-production/editing. The end result of an image is limited solely by the imagination of the photographer. With the photos in this series I wanted to divert the process partway through and re-combine my raw images with the beautiful environments that surround and inspire my work. Each photograph starts as an original digital image I’ve previously shot. These images are then projected onto carefully selected surfaces that complement or enhance some element of the original photograph.

There are no computer tricks at work here; it’s pure photography. The goal of this work is to expand our collective concept of photographic representation, and to engage audiences to stare and interpret, guess and question, to be confused and understand, to look again and to think beyond what they initially see. By deleting preconceived notions and allowing thoughts to flow freely through the mind, we open the door to pure creativity. This is how the first images began 1600 years ago and how new ideas will continue to develop and broaden the photographic horizons.


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I almost knocked everything into the water at least twice, stumbling around the dark edges of the brush trying to shine a light on the third dimension. But from those first images projected onto a pocket of ferns I realized I’d found something at least, a seam to be further explored. Many images didn’t work, time flowed past without notice, but then a photo would land on the ferns and just pop out at me and reinvigorate the process.               This began as a “why not?” idea but as things began to click I found new purpose with every projection and every shot. One of my favourite things about shooting photographs is when I surprise myself. That happened, then it happened again, and again.

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I’ve been down to the creek a half dozen times since that night, even set up a tarp to be able to shoot in the relentless winter rain. I think about images differently now. No matter what I shoot I find myself looking for those elements of depth and ways I can lift the third dimension to the surface.

Photography is science: chemicals on a metal plate or digital pixels on a screen.  But that science is an arena for creativity, one pushing the other until both evolve into something unique. Art, creativity, photography, magic…

These days, it’s all going off at the creek down in the woods in my backyard but I imagine you can find it almost anywhere if you aren’t afraid to look.



I am very excited by this adventure into a new avenue of visual representation and look forward to future endevours that will lead me and my photography in ways I cannot currently imagine.  There will be some really cool work being done along these realms right here in Roberts Creek, with a collective of individual wizards I’ve come to known…stayed tuned for more details in Spring.