February 9, 2014, Big Shot photographed High Falls – Rochester, New York for its 29th photograph. Following the conclusion of the event, Big Shot coordinator Dawn Tower DuBois resigned her official role with the project. This Blog post is dedicated to Dawn and her contributions to Big Shot for nearly 28 years. Written by Michael Peres
Dawn Tower DuBois shares the result of Big Shot No 16 – the Alamo with then RIT President Albert Simone March 2001.
Ralph Waldo Emerson shared, “it’s a journey, not a destination”. These words so accurately describe my involvement with the RIT Big Shot project beginning in 1987. When Big Shot started, there was no master plan. Big Shot was proposed simply as a way to teach sophomores who were studying Biomedical Photographic Communications at RIT how to solve complicated problems with simple tools that required teamwork. More importantly we just wanted to have fun. Dawn Tower DuBois, Bill DuBois nor I could never have imagined 29 photographs later, the experiences that would happen along the way.
Big Shot was featured in the Dagens Nyheter Stockholm newspaper which included world renown photographer Lennart Nilsson
Dawn reacts to be sworn in as an Alamo ranger.
At the completion of Big Shot No 29 Dawn resigned her official role as a Big Shot coordinator. Dawn had retired one year earlier as faculty member from the Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute Deaf. Her husband Bill – also an original member of the Big Shot project – retired from RIT in 2012. Dawn operated the Sinar 4 x 5 camera used December 4, 1987 at the first Big Shot photograph. See a TV report from that first project by clicking here. From that night forward, she recorded either on film – or sensors – the Big Shot magic from thousands of people who have attended our events. The images we all have come to expect from Big Shot are certainly due in part to her expertise using large format cameras but also her keen eye for detail, selection of the point of views we chose, and her decisions about composition.
From the beginning, each of us assumed a role in making Big Shots. Being an architectural photographer, Dawn immediately embraced the role of Big Shot photographer. Bill loved to innovate and I loved to manage the details. Steps required for gaining approval to photograph were quite simple in the beginning. After a phone call or two or a meeting, we had a date and could start the advertising the event. Dawn and I would hand paint large signs to hang in the Gannett Building to advertise the event. Many of you might remember painted signs in grocery store windows. Next Dawn would prepare the 2 sheet film holders that would be used. For some reason, we decided 4 photographs were to be made of Highland Hospital, Big Shot No. 1. From that time forward we make only 4 attempts to get an image. Dawn – with great attention to detail – would blow out the holders and load four sheets of Kodak Tri-X, which later became TMax 400 into them. As we made more photographs we also used Vericolor VPS 400. We used Polaroid Type 42 for testing our exposure and lighting on the first attempt only. Each emulsion needed to have the same ISO for the 5 minutes it took to take the picture. Dawn was always preparing and organizing. She really owned this critical step of preparation. The camera bags were filled with extra batteries for the spot meters; the air horn had fresh canisters of air; and the tripods were ready. It was much like going camping. We would always be so excited and of course nervous in our own ways. After exposing the film, we would race to either my darkroom or the DuBois’s and develop the 4 sheets of B&W film. Wow…
Dawn’s attention to detail and preparation was so thorough Bill and I never thought a moment about any of it. There was always fresh chemistry and cold beer. Eight minutes after the development was complete – and with the film in the fixer – a sharp and properly exposed negative was always visible in the chemistry. There was a moment of “oh wow” it worked and then “whew”, it worked….
With film photography, there was no fixing it in Photoshop. It was either focused or not; it was either properly exposed or not; and it exhibited proper contrast or not. The margin for error was very slim. Dawn’s skills as photographer delivered great results year in and year out.
After development, the washing of the film was accomplished and we would then use alcohol as a finishing solution. From there, 8 x 10 enlargements were made on RC paper and we drove them to the Rochester TV stations. The prints were still wet most of the time and we had hopes we might make the 11 o’clock news. We were successful 100% of the time. At first we all drove together but as the years progressed, we split up to be more efficient. There was also a stop at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper. What a gas…
Thank you Dawn for your dedication to Big Shot and for your love of the students that we had the privilege to work so closely over the years with. Your attention to the myriad of details required in the planning phases of each project; the asking lots of questions at relevant times; and for being difficult/fun were things I looked forward to. Days and hours before the event, we shared a common adrenalin and anticipation that made it all good. I will miss that experience. The ever present Big Shot rope first used at Mt Hope will serve as constant reminder to me of the role and contributions you made to Big Shot for nearly 30 years.
Big Shot is forever better because of the legacy you have left for the newly formed “Team Big Shot” comprised of myself, Willie Osterman, Christye Sisson and Mike Dear. We will miss your smile at the NOW frequent meetings needed to produce photographs in this the modern era. You are always welcome at the Big Shot table. Our best wishes for health and happiness in retirement.
Below are snapshots of Dawn that begin in 1990. In the earliest years of Big Shot, very little photo documentation exists. As the years have progressed and with digital technologies being the norm, events are now immediately shared.