Hailing from a natural reserve just outside the Belgian Ardennes, Spa mineral water claims to be the world’s purest water. To put their claim to the test, J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam came up with a novel stunt: challenging top Dutch portrait photographer, Robin de Puy, to take a photo through a drop of Spa. 

Tasking with turning a water droplet into a functional lens and building a unique camera to capture a portrait through it, the agency's innovation team paired up with tech specialists Etulipa who helped them tackle a number of hurdles. 


The first challenge was to find a way to make the drop of Spa water keep its spherical shape when placed onto a glass plate, since the force of gravity dictates that a drop of water dissolves into a puddle when placed onto a glass plat . The answer? Add water-repellent coating. 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 the electricity voltage running through the drop of water, its shape either contracts or expands. 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 born. 


The resulting black-and-white portraits captured by de Puy [below] have an almost painterly feel. “Creating The Purest Picture was a surprisingly rich and challenging experience," said de Puy. "I guess without realising it we have become rather dependent on technology. I always shoot with the latest cameras and have become used to how quick and easy it is. With The Purest Picture I had to go back to basics and work with a mirror, a diaphragm, and a lens - which in this case was the drop of water. Then I went in search of beautiful characters with a story to tell – and ended up with a series of portraits with strangely timeless feel, it’s almost like they are black-and-white watercolours. And I think we managed to capture their pure emotion – all through a drop of Spa.” 


“When people talk about innovation, it generally means working with cutting-edge technology," adds ECD Bas Korsten. "What I love about The Purest Picture is that we are being innovative, but rather than high tech, this is low tech: we’re using one of the world’s oldest natural materials, water. Sometimes the most interesting results come from stripping the creative process back down to its essence and using old school elements in a totally new way.” 

For more insights into the process, check out the case study video, below.



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