‘Big Shot’ event highlights women’s rights movement

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Photo credit: RIT

The Big Shot team at Rochester Institute of Technology didn’t have to scout ideas for the project this academic year. It had a clear vision: honoring Rochester’s role in the women’s rights movement.

Called “painting with light,” the RIT Big Shot is an ode to photography as much as it is highlighting communities and landmarks. It engages student and community volunteers to provide the primary light source for an image while RIT photographers shoot an extended exposure. 

A signature event for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and RIT’s College of Art and Design and led by the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, the Big Shot No. 34 takes place March 22.

Roughly 300 people are expected to participate to capture a dramatic nighttime image of the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House and the surrounding neighborhood. 

Dan Hughes

With Susan B. Anthony’s 200th birthday and the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Dan Hughes, a lecturer at the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences and RIT Big Shot team member, says honoring Anthony, the suffragettes and others who worked toward women’s suffrage in Rochester was an appropriate subject for the project.     

The Big Shot started at the end of the 1986-87 school year. Professors William DuBois and Michael Peres came up with the idea while considering an effective method to teach electronic flash photography and problem-solving skills to photography students in the biomedical photography program. It came to light with a project sponsored by Sylvania Corp. that they called the Big Shot. Since then, numerous subjects have been photographed in New York and elsewhere. 

Now, Nikon Inc. is a longtime sponsor of the Big Shot and will be the event’s premier sponsor this year as well. Other sponsors include the city of Rochester and Eastman Kodak Co., which will help deliver complimentary memento prints.

Hughes expects the Big Shot to evolve with technology and time. Ideas for future projects abound. 

The Rochester Beacon posed a few questions to Hughes. Here are his answers.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Is the Big Shot an annual event? How does it work? Do photographers work in teams? 

DAN HUGHES: The Big Shot team tries its best to have an event each and every academic year. We begin by brainstorming potential subjects with our team on an annual basis. So, we are always exploring multiple venues. As for the event itself, the Big Shot team plans out the event, the appropriate point of view, secures multiple lighting team leaders and students, sets up the cameras and invites the public to assist in lighting the scene. Much work goes into each Big Shot with months or years of preparation. The team works with local government, site personnel and RIT communications to work on specifics of the shot, including safety, clearances, etc. On the day of the shoot, we ask all participants—students and community alike—to arrive at the chosen site about 30 minutes or so before the photographs are made so we can organize all the teams, place them in predetermined spaces and receive a little instruction. Included in this instruction is informing participants to listen for the countdown that lets them know when the camera is shooting and everything needs to be illuminated. Flashes fire and flashlights are turned on to fill in light in areas which would otherwise be dark. Once the four photos are made, the public disperses, the Big Shot team cleans up the area and rushes off to process the images to be shared. One of the most exciting parts of the evening is when the final images are presented on the local news the same night of the event and all of the Big Shot participants can see what they took part in making!  

ROCHESTER BEACON: What are your plans for this event? How many people do you expect to participate?

HUGHES: Our plan for the upcoming event is to make pictures of two different scenes. One photo will be a panoramic image of the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood from the park near the statues of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Another photo will be specifically of the Susan B. Anthony House. So, technically we have two Big Shot views captured at the same time. We hope for around 300 participants to help make the photograph. However, due to the popularity of the subjects and the community-charged Big Shot event, we anticipate there will be a larger crowd of participants, including families and enthusiasts who come out to a Big Shot each year.

ROCHESTER BEACON: This nighttime community photo project has been around since 1987 and has attracted sponsors. What gives it staying power?

HUGHES: Not only has the project been around since 1987, but it has been on an upward trajectory since the very start. I attribute the popularity of the project to be a direct result of the passion for photography exhibited by the Big Shot crew, students and the local community. It has proved to be a special way to bring a variety of communities together to make a once in a lifetime photograph. It is also a great time for everyone who attends! The public has fun, the venue gets amazing photographs for their use and the Big Shot crew, teams and students love the challenge of making technically difficult photographs.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What does the Big Shot do for our community?

HUGHES: The Big Shot aims to bring communities together and promote the arts with each project. That said, every Big Shot event is different, and so sometimes the crew is able to reach out to local schools and community groups to discuss public art and photography ahead of the event and other times the events are a one-night event of fun where families, photographers, and anyone interested gets to come together to make something special as a group. It’s fun to talk to folks who’ve attended many of the Big Shot events. They always point out the part of the photograph that they helped to light and recall their experience with such personal detail. The event occurs in nearly any weather condition, so years when the weather doesn’t behave people always mention how cold they were or how wet they got in the rain. Never are they sad or upset about the experience. They see how they contributed and look back with fondness even if the weather wasn’t ideal.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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