On February 9, five of RIT’s photography professors hosted the twenty-ninth annual Big Shot, an organized photo shoot where volunteers bring flashlights to illuminate High Falls in downtown Rochester. The goal was for students and community members to bring flashlights, light them simultaneously and light up High Falls. Above the Falls was the CSX railroad, who participated in the photo shoot by bringing a train from their world headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla. 650 volunteers held up their flashlights in 19 degrees Fahrenheit to produce a successful photograph. The city of Rochester turned off all street and sidewalk lights along the Genessee River, from the falls to the Broad Street aqueduct. The city also turned off lights on Cataract Street and the Pont De Rennes Bridge.
William DuBois, Dawn Tower-DuBois and Michael Peres coordinated the first event in December 1987 as an assignment for sophomores in the Biomedical Photography program at RIT. Thirty six bio-medical photography students attended the first Big Shot. “We used to operate in obscurity, no one even knew we were doing it,” said Peres, one of this year’s coordinators.
Since that first event, the photo shoot has become a community event. Big Shot is located in Rochester every other year and on the road the years in-between. Last year, Big Shot took place at Dallas Cowboy stadium in Burlington, where 2,400 people were involved.
High Falls was considered as the location for Big Shot two years ago, but the event was instead located at Seabreeze for the amusement park’s 125th anniversary. “This year, we knew we needed something special,” said Peres. “Because of the project’s importance to students, and learning as one of the pretenses to why we do Big Shot, we wanted to be in town. We knew the falls had the potential to be beautiful, and it is an important part of Rochester’s history.” Next to location, part of the project’s significance was the time of year. A winter Big Shot photo hasn’t happened since 2000.
This year’s photo took 10 months of planning. Peres explained that their first step was to pitch the idea to the Office of Special Projects. Big Shot is the fifth project that they’ve done with the city. They needed approval from Rochester Gas and Electric, the organization that manages High Falls. Pro Photo sponsored the project this year, agreeing to help light the falls with high power electronic flash equipment. “We also wanted the train. You can’t have a railroad without a train!” said Peres. Obtaining the train took nine months.
When it was time for the photo to be taken, the responsibilities were split up among the coordinators. On Sunday, Peres controlled crowd management, Willie Osterman and Tower-DuBois ran the cameras, Chrystye Sisson was lighting the CSX freight train on the bridge and Mike Dear worked with Pro Photo to light the falls with electronic flash equipment. The photo was produced with contribution from students, RIT alum, officials, administrators, faculty, the city’s mayor office and pedestrians. “This project exists because of the generosity and participation of hundreds of people. It’s a weird way to make a picture, but it works,” said Peres.