setting to another level. Tobias’s light paintings were the answer,”
Bett says. “We wanted to create a surreal, unearthly event in a
beautiful natural environment.”
The title of Magic Man’s new album suggested a seascape, and
members of the band wanted a setting that reflected their origins in
the northeast, he explains. Bett and Hutzler chose Block Island, off
the coast of Rhode Island, for its unpopulated oceanfront, and because
it was close to New York City, but far enough away so light pollution
wasn’t a problem.
Hutzler’s assignment was to scout the island for places to shoot,
and present light drawing ideas for the album packaging. “Tobias
was free to draw from his experience making personal work,
this [assignment] would basically be an extension of that for him
creatively,” Bett says, while noting that the turnaround time was tight
and the budget was “low.”
Hutzler’s idea was to make images that captured the sense of calm
before a storm. He decided to “do something with fire” in a serene
landscape where “you feel something is about to happen.”
Because fire is often a visual cliché, he was looking for unusual
ways to shoot it. He turned to a science-minded friend, who suggested
photographing an underwater fire. The idea worked. “It had a magic
glow. It looked like a volcano,” Hutzler says, adding, “It’s more modern,
more abstract” than a traditional photograph of a fire. (He used a
chemical agent that burns underwater, though he declined to identify it.)
For another image, “we wanted to have an entire landscape
burning,” he says. To simulate that, he used string to tie hundreds
of small lights to a large net, and threw the net into the water, far
enough from shore so wave action could move the lights freely in
all directions. The resulting image, Hutzler says, “is basically an
illustration of the waves, and the energy and movement of the water,
through light.” (The resulting image was used on the album cover.)
The reason he attached the lights to a net, he explains, “is because
I wanted to collect the lights [afterwards], not create garbage” in the
ocean. Hutzler wouldn’t say what types of lights he used, hinting only
that he’s experimented in the past with glow sticks and waterproof,
battery-powered LED lights.
Hutzler had to work within the narrow windows of time just after
sunset and before sunrise, when “there was just enough light to expose
the seascape, and just enough dark for the streaks of light-painting to
register,” says Bett, who was on set.
He continues, “We’d shoot starting before dusk until 10 or 11 p.m. or
so, then sleep a few hours to start again before sunrise. Then we’d review
what we shot and plan for the next window. After a few days of this we
were exhausted.” The conditions were cold and wet, and they had to
haul equipment to and from the beach in the dark, going up and down a
muddy bluff. “This was probably the most physically demanding shoot
I’d ever experienced, with very satisfying, beautiful results,” says Bett,
who adds that Hutzler provided “dozens of images” for the campaign.
Hutzler has landed other assignments on the strength of his
light-drawing project, most recently for a 20-page Geo feature about
a paleontological expedition to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The
scientists on the expedition were searching for clues to the origins of
life in the fossil record.
“The assignment was to interpret the magic of what the scientists
were discovering, using my approach to light,” Hutzler says. He
wanted to photograph the scientists’ camp at twilight, amid the
soaring mountains, “to show how small humans are in this scope of
nature.” Hutzler knew he had just a few minutes each day of “in-
between light” just after sunset. After a week of constant rain and
snow that kept him tent-bound, the weather finally cleared at just the
right time, and for just long enough.
“I climbed half an hour up a hill, had one minute to shoot, then
climbed back down,” he says. The long exposure “was like looking
down on a little city, with people moving between tents with their
Hutzler says he does little to promote his personal work. Instead, he
focuses on projects that are out of the ordinary. Several, including his
light drawing project and a video he made of a circus performer building
an elaborate balance, have gone viral. “It’s important to go on a path
where nobody else goes, and to go beyond common projects,” he says.
Not only does that strategy help define him as an artist, he says, but it
attracts clients interested in hiring him to apply the esthetics and
techniques of his personal work to the promotion of their brands.
Tobias Hutzler’s experiments with the interplay of light and landscapes have
led to various assignments, including album art for the band Magic Man.
ABOVE: A fire burning underwater, near the shores of Block Island, Rhode Island.
BELO W: Points of light set in motion by tidal action.