Or, maybe just hold the light. Or a bunch of lights. Posted last week and alleged using 53 speedlights of various types on the above. It’s a number that stuck in my head. I kept thinking on it and in the interests of veracity and accuracy and all that stashed up guilt from being raised Irish Catholic, I did some research on it and the official number came back as 47. My bad. The source here is Bill Pekala, the General Manager of NPS over at Nikon. He worked with me on it, as he has many projects in the 20 plus years we have known each other. Great guy, and a mind like a bear trap for all things photographic. A photog’s friend, in a word, who leavens his photo discourse with various down home Tennessee-isms that are part country wisdom and part Nikon manual.
Dunno why 53 stuck with me. It might have come from chewing the fat with Bill, over a couple of beers, and doing the old, “Remember when we lit up that KC-135 with like 50 or so flashes….” type of thing. I’m sure some day in the home, on the porch, in my wheelychair, it’ll be up to 103, and somehow the entire mission would have mysteriously acquired an element of danger. “Remember all those flashes? They ran on steam, remember?! Damn dangerous! Had to wear a bomb suit just to handle ‘em!” This conversation would of course be attended to by the rolled eyes of those who can hear me say anything, the odd cackle or two, and the more than occasional fart.
Light doesn’t have to be hard, or a lot. True, every once in a while you get confronted with something, you know, like Everest, and you just climb it cause it’s there. It ain’t fun, I tell ya. One of the first stories I ever did for the National Geographic was about the then soon to be re-opened Ellis Island. The first part of the coverage was a blast. Just me, Kodachrome 25 and rising morning light. I would get onto the island in total darkness, roughly 4 am (it was Nov-Dec) and start walking the halls of the deserted section of the island.
It was kind of creepy. Lots of folks died out there. They have the remnants of the medical area and the old crematorium. I’d have my tripod and just to keep myself company, I would push open a door with it and stir up a flurry of pidgeons. Then I would call out, “Freddy? Jason? You in there?”
Too many movies.
It was a revelation. No PR people hovering (they flutter just like pidgeons, by the way, so I felt right at home). No plug ugly subjects, no light hearted bullshit banter at the camera, no real timetable except the sun striking an object.
Came up with some of my favorite photos. No people, just rust and ghosts.
Of course I wasn’t stupid enough to think that Geographic gave me this wondrous job to wander around abandoned hallways in rising light. Lots of folks better than I am at that. No, no. The job had a wrinkle, as they often do. At one point in the coverage, I was gonna have to light Ellis Island.
Not the whole damn thing, just the museum portion, which is a biggggggg building. At the time it was a construction site with very limited electric power. Had to drag my own genny truck out there. Quick $1000 under the table to the union rep (I love NY!) and voila, I got my own power on the island.
Next, the lights. Woe to a shooter trying to rent strobes that week in NY. The shot below is done with about 50-60 power packs (2400ws, some 48′s) plugged into roughly 100-120 flash heads. We spent 4 days or so wiring and testing and shooting this rig. Killer sked. Shoot sunrise, run the film to the lab. See all the mistakes, run back to the island. Make adjustments. Shoot sunset. Run the film to the lab. See the mistakes. Back to the island. Make adjustments. Sleep in the car for a couple hours. Shoot sunrise. Go on another mistake finding lab run. This went on for 4 days.
Crew of 4, I believe, and they were all ready to tie some Speedotrons around my neck and dump me in the harbor. “Where’s Joe?” Splash. “Dunno. Haven’t seen him.” (One member of the crew came by the studio personally to pick up his check and assure me that lighting Ellis Island had been the worst experience of his life.)
Triggered the system from 3 vantage points on the ground, and tried some stuff from the air, with line of sight flash triggering. (Clamped Hensel Porty heads to the open door of the chopper and flew that baby in close to rooftops where we had slave eyes on light stands. (Sounds antediluvian but it was, you know, like 1989 or so.)
We got a pic, and the flash pop was easily viewable from Brooklyn or New Jersey. Got on the WINS traffic report on the last day cause the reporter and his chopper pilot were drawn to the explosion of light in the harbor. Never forget his opening line for the traffic report: “And there’s lightning over Ellis Island this morning as National Geographic lights up the island for a story!”
My day rate at the time was $250 per day, which made me far cheaper to rent than the strobe system. But it was there, you know? I had to climb it. More tk.