This past Wednesday was hot — so hot that the city of Vancouver broke its all-time temperature record, which had stood since 1960. Wednesday also coincided with the third night of the annual 2-week fireworks competition on English Bay. Although I love this event, I had never considered photographing it. To me, the only thing duller than a fireworks photo is a fireworks video. But that night, blinking away the sweat that had puddled in my eye sockets, I caught a glimpse of the Leica as I headed for the door.
“Bring me,” it said.
“Bring me,” repeated the Leica.
“But I have no interest in photographing fireworks.”
“Not even in black and white?” countered the camera.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said.
“Exactly,” replied the Leica, knowing my weakness for incongruity.
“I’m not too keen on the idea of lugging a tripod down to the beach.”
“You want me to photograph fireworks and you don’t want me to use a tripod?”
“There are a hundred thousand people out there,” argued the Leica. “You need to be mobile. You’re a street photographer.”
“But it’s pitch black,” I challenged.
“The fireworks will provide some light.”
“So let me make sure I have this right. Using black & white, you want me to take street photos on a beach in the middle of the night, hand-holding ridiculously long exposures because a fireworks display is going to be my only source of illumination and I’m not going to have a tripod?”
“Yup,” said the Leica.
“I’ll do it!”
And, with that, my sweat-swathed palm grabbed the camera and headed down to Sunset Beach, well after sunset on a sweltering summer night. Typical of inanimate objects, the Leica had told me what to do, but not how to actually do it.
With the camera gone mum, I scanned the crowd looking for a shot. Initially, I thought I’d photograph the faces of people as they gazed skyward toward the light, but there simply wasn’t enough of it. And, more importantly, there would be nothing in the photo to convey that the light had come from a fireworks display. I knew then that I’d photograph people from behind — using the fireworks as a source of rim lighting to outline their silhouettes. I also wanted to impart some sense of the setting — the trees, the bay, the ships on the water, and the crowd on the beaches. So I strolled around until I found a nook through which I could frame everything. I held the Leica firmly against my slippery brow and released the lazy shutter, capturing the first official fireworks photo in my 20-year camera-toting career.
The next day, Thursday, was even hotter — breaking Vancouver’s previous all-time temperature record, which had stood for only 24 hours. I won’t bore you with a recount of my conversation with the coffee machine.
©2009 grEGORy simpson
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