October 2009

Posted by Ellen

A few days ago, the photo-science geniuses from Rochester Institute of Technology conducted their annual Big Shot, an experiment in painting with light. A scene is chosen--this year, the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington, D.C. The public is invited to participate by bringing handheld light sources, such as flashlights or candles. Streetlights, security lights, and other nearby high-tech sources of illumination are extinguished, so when night approaches, the scene gets darker and darker.

Inside lights are switched on to make the building glow in the dark. Then the crowd is arranged so that all the handheld lights paint the scene. This year, about 800 people participated, and after a 20-second exposure, the big shot came out pretty as a picture.

That's the Washington Monument in the background, leaning to the left because of distortion caused by the wide-open lens.

Posted by Ellen

Obviously, this picture was taken on a Monday. The scene is the tenement backyard at Park Avenue and 107th Street in New York, probably in the year 1900.

Setting up these clotheslines was not a trivial task, especially on the higher floors. A man would come around calling out "I climb poles!" and for about 25 cents he'd climb up and run the rope out over the pulleys. He also sold rope and pulleys, but if you'd planned ahead and bought them from the hardware store, you could save a few cents.

Notice the train track at the bottom of the photo--I'm guessing the whites were whiter at the far end of the block. Just on the other side of the tracks is the building where baseball player Lou Gehrig grew up, a few years after this picture was taken.

I suggest viewing this image as large as possible, so you can peep into the windows.