The small town of Spa is set just outside a nature reserve in the Belgian Ardennes. This is the home of Spa mineral water, which claims to be the world’s purest water.
J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam set out to prove just how pure and clear Spa water is by challenging top Dutch portrait photographer, Robin de Puy, to take a photo through a drop of Spa.
This challenge resulted in The Purest Picture – a series of photographic portraits taken with the simplest of materials: just water, a mirror, a diaphragm, and an electrical current. Stripping the creative process back to its very essence and using a surprisingly low-tech approach to achieve a pure form of photography.
But first, the innovation team at JWT Amsterdam had to find a way to make this happen. The team was tasked with turning the drop of Spa water into a functional lens and building a unique camera to capture a portrait through the lens.
The force of gravity dictates that a spherical drop of water collapses into a puddle when placed on a glass plate, so the first challenge was to find a way to make the drop of Spa water maintain its shape.
The answer to this challenge was to add a water-repellent coating to the glass. The next problem was to find a way to control the shape of the water drop to allow the photographer to pull focus. This was resolved by employing an electro-wetting technique: by changing an electric voltage running through the drop of water, its shape was made to expand or contract.
Then, a small mirror was added underneath at a 45-degree angle to reflect horizontal light up through the lens. Finally, a sensor was added, and after much experimenting, the world’s first water camera was finally ready to shoot its first portraits.
In the meantime, the photographer Robin de Puy went in search of subjects, looking for interesting characters with a story to tell. And the final result is a series of portraits with a strangely timeless feel – they almost look like black-and-white watercolours.
A beautiful way to frame the purity of Spa mineral water.