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The Big(gest) Shot(yet)

RIT photographers capture the Intrepid

Photographers captured more than one image at Big Shot 1999. On the opposite page, beginning top left: Tom Zigon, assistant professor of photography, Bill DuBois, professor of photography, and Dawn Tower DuBois, NTID/CIAS instructor, coordinate efforts before the shoot; a view of the Intrepid as people gather on deck around 5 p.m.; Willie Osterman, associate professor of photography, prepares to shoot at ground level; students await the final moment; the CNN crew films the proceedings as Big Shot photographers Bill and Dawn DuBois check their cameras; viewers along the pier look forward to their own version of Big Shot; another view of the Intrepid; Tom Zigon signals the crew aboard ship and on the pier; students are good-to-go; flashers take position on 12th Ave.; Bill DuBois and Michael Peres, professor of photography, ready equipment for a trip to the top of the UPS Building; Bill DuBois and UPS's Mark Giuffre chat atop the UPS Building; students arrange to illuminate the ship; flashers get last minute instructions; the CNN crew arranges to film the event against the New York City skyline.

    Would-be flashers filled the flight deck of the World War II aircraft carrier. They lined New York City's 12th Avenue and Pier 84 adjacent to the 900-foot-long ship. Camera flashes in hand, more than 1,200 people shivered in the October cold as they waited for the sun to set and the word to come. Heads continually turned to check the red signal light located in a window in a building across the street and nine stories up. Finally, it glowed, a signal that there was only a minute to go before they would help make photographic history. They silently counted down, till they heard the command: "Shutters open!"

    And then they flashed. Over and over again they flashed the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum, bringing it out of the darkness and bathing it in light. At the end of two minutes, word came again: "Stop flashing!"

    As the flashers took a breath, RIT's Big Shot photographers perched atop the United Parcel Service building held theirs. They waited for the Polaroid photo they were using as a gauge to emerge. Just as a clear, well-lit picture of the ship appeared, the anxiety and concerns they had harbored over the last eight months began to vanish. They had it, and they had three more chances to make it even better. As one look at the cover of this magazine will tell you, the Big Shot team succeeded. The Oct. 28 event at the Intrepid marked RIT's 14th attempt at making a nighttime picture of a large, hard-to-photograph subject, using only handheld flashes for light. It was a tremendous success.

    "I think the image is incredible," says Michael Peres, photography professor and co-founder of the Big Shot, along with Bill DuBois, also a photography professor, and Dawn Tower DuBois, instructor, National Technical Institute for the Deaf/College of Imaging Arts and Sciences Support Department. "Seeing the final color print and how the light worked in that enormous space became the best part. The anxiety of wondering if it would work, if people would show, if we would be able to direct everyone--it was all worth it. I'm delighted."

    Getting to the Intrepid was a long road. But it was a destination the Big Shot team always wanted to reach: in 1987, senior Corey Meitchik took part in RIT's second Big Shot. He joined his professors and classmates as they "painted with light" and successfully captured a picture of the George Eastman House. Afterwards, he suggested to Peres and DuBois that they take on the Intrepid.

    "We were wondering what would be next, and I had just been to the Intrepid the weekend before," Meitchik says. "It was a big enough structure and it could be lit from all around. It fit the criteria."

    But, with only two Big Shots in their portfolios, the team quickly decided that the Intrepid was too large and complicated a project to attempt so soon. Rather, they would take their time and select their subjects carefully. They would choose sites that would allow them to test their skills. But they always kept Meitchik's suggestion in the back of their minds.

    Over the next 12 years, Big Shots would focus on local landmarks such as Mt. Hope Cemetery, Silver Stadium and the Ontario County Courthouse in Canandaigua. With each attempt, the photographers challenged themselves in new and different ways. Quickly the project gained momentum. Everyone soon knew what had to be done and what roles they had to play. Peres took over organizing the action on the ground level, while the DuBoises made sure they got the shot.

    When the team had to pick a location for the 1999 Big Shot, they felt the time had come to consider the Intrepid. After an initial visit to the ship in February proved that the idea was feasible, everyone involved began working to make it happen. Soon it wasn't just another Big Shot, but an opportunity for alumni to gather together.

    RIT grads jumped at the chance to be a part of Institute history. More than 500 from all over the country turned out, including Beth Sabbatini, a 1989 graduate of the graphic design program. An active member of the New York City alumni chapter, Sabbatini had never "flashed" before.

    "I had no idea what it was all about, but it sounded kind of interesting," she says. "It was definitely fun."

    After the shoot, RIT's Office of Alumni Relations hosted a party on board the aircraft carrier.

    "It was a huge success," says Dan Hickey, assistant director, Alumni Relations. "We were able to bring alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, high school students and the general public together for one event."

    Among the partygoers was Corey Meitchik. Not only had he participated in the Big Shot he had dreamed of long ago, but as a member of the team, he helped to make it happen.

    "It was awesome," says Meitchik. "After all of the planning that went into it, to see it come together and see all the people who came--it was impressive."