The fire works on 4th of July have always fascinated me. I think we can all agree that the Independence Day firework displays are some of our fondest child hood memories.
I watched the fire works on the 4th and it got me thinking about if it were possible to shoot fire works with this wet plate process? I figured i’d have to wait in till next year. So I went to get a coffee with my homie james and he mentioned they were having a fire works at dodger stadium because the dodgers were on the road for the 4th. It was already late in the day but we decided we should give it a try. We quickly loaded the car and drove over to scout locations. On the way over we stoped by home depot to grab some stuff to shoot at night (like flashlights!) and I started realizing this was going to be a challenging shoot.
After traversing Elysian Park every which way, we set on a location that we had to push the cart down this dirt road for a ½ mile to get to. Now well past the point of no return, lacking a few essentials like sweatshirts, james set upon rigging one of my trays with epoxy while I set up the chemicals and mentally prepared to deal with the cops, kids, soccer balls, cholos or whatever else was headed our way. I shot a test and realized my collodion was jacked. It poured like elmer’s glue and my heart sank.
I tried to fix it and it got worse.
I tried to fix it and it got worse. I found a spare bottle with enough for maybe two shots so we decided to wait till the light fell completely off. The hours drew on slowly as the temperature dipped and the wind picked up. We anxiously awaited the end of the game as our hands went numb and the threat of park rangers evicting us empty handed loomed. Finally the dodger’s get dealt with and the fire works are eminent. James is pressing me to get a plate ready but I know my timing has to be perfect to catch two plates. It’s time to do work and everything gets a little frantic. I pour the collodion and realize that I might not even have enough for this plate. Knowing this is my only shot I come out of the darkroom with my cartridge loaded and a certain intensity. With the camera locked and loaded I awaited the first explosion. As the sky began to light up I opened the shutter and and left it in the hands of my grueling preparation. The fire works were not being launched from where we expected but it looked like it was gonna frame even better. Then I notice I haven’t pulled the dark slide on the film back. I jump to fix the shutter, pull the dark slide, wait for my moment and re-open the shutter. When I felt I captured enough I closed the shutter, let the show end and then re-opened to let the city burn into the plate. The lights of the stadium started to re-fire as I closed the shutter for the last time and I was pretty sure I just killed it. James held a flashlight I rigged with a red gel over my shoulder in the darkroom as I poured the developer and realized the plate had been scratched by the dark slide. I pushed through without emotion and got it out and in the fix. James crouched eagerly over the plate in the fixer with a flashlight as I walked away and noticed some park police had pulled in. I again sprang into action and started cleaning up all the chemicals I wasn’t really sure the cops were gonna be cool with, as I heard james yell out “I think the plate might be scratched but I can’t tell!” I already knew. As I labored through all the mess, hassling ass cops and thick dodger traffic; I was crushed. Seven hours of grinding, my body aching from exposure, my assistant beat to shit and one of the most beautiful photo’s I have ever taken irreparably marred by a stupid mistake that left a big white scratch over my downtown skyline.
This is photography. This is why it feels so good when things line up.
Location: Dodger Stadium Los Angeles,Ca