History of the Big Shot

At the conclusion of the 1986-87 school year, Professors William DuBois and Michael Peres were analyzing the successes and failures of the recently completed academic year. While considering the most effective method for the teaching of electronic flash photography and problem solving skills for second year photography students in the Biomedical Photography program, it was decided that a painting with light project might be useful and fun for the following year. The idea was inspired by a project sponsored by the Sylvania Corporation that they called the Big Shot. The Sylvania Big Shot was produced in the 1950’s and was used as a promotional project for their flash bulb products. During the course of the Big Shots history, numerous subjects were photographed including Lambert Field, Levitown, New York, the Canton Football Hall of Fame as well the Khufu Pyramid shown below. The Sylvania project wired thousands of their bulbs together and at one instance, when all cameras at the event were open, Sylvania would trigger all the bulbs simultaneously which caused an explosion of light. People from all over the area would be invited to watch and Sylvania – of course – made a photograph of the important event. Miles of wire was required to connect the bulbs to the triggering system. In July 2004, a Sylvania Big Shot photograph
was re-created of the Horseshoe Curve in PA.


1959 Sylvania Big Shot, Great Pyramid of Khufu

In December of 1987, the Biomedical Photography department produced the first RIT Big Shot of the Highland Hospital, in downtown Rochester, New York. Dawn Tower DuBois operated a single 4 x 5 camera loaded with Kodak TMax 400 negative film. 37 students and friends of the Biomed department attended that event and so began an annual tradition.

The basic principles of the project are quite simple. The picture is made at night using either hand-held electronic flash units or flashlights. When the camera shutter is opened, participants “paint” the subject with light during a timed exposure. Lights are aimed randomly across the scene and the exposure is created over time rather than as a result of one large discharge. All exterior lights are turned off when possible, while sometimes interior lights are left on. This provides illumination from inside leading to a photograph that is both unique and a community event. The lighting is non-directional when produced this way and often results in shadowless outcomes.

Big Shot number 1, Highland Hospital 1987

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