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Planning the 'Big Shot' of Churchill Downs

jackiembarr/Creative Commons

The lights will go out Saturday at Churchill Downs, and thousands of handheld flashlights will illuminate the racetrack for the annual "Big Shot" photography project.

Organizers from the Rochester Institute of Technology began the Big Shot in 1987 to show photography students how to solve complex problems with simple technology. Since then, a different landmark has been photographed each year in a long exposure, lit by flashlights (and now, cell phones) held by thousands of volunteers. Past subjects have included the Alamo, Cowboys Stadium in Dallas and the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden.

And this year, Churchill Downs gets the Big Shot treatment.

Organizers said volunteers  should wear dark clothing; they will be arranged into teams when they arrive.

The teams will spread out to cover as much of the racetrack as possible, and at about 9 p.m., all of the lights at the track will be turned off and the flashlights will turn on. Four digital cameras will be located in the infield, looking at the grandstands and the famous Twin Spires. Four images will be taken, and the finished photo should be available online by 10 p.m.

Michael Peres, associate chair of the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is one of the founding organizers of the "Big Shot" project. He said it’s a family-friendly event, and no prior experience is necessary.

“It’s a community art project. In much the same way someone might paint a wall with paint, we’re going to paint Churchill Downs with light,” Peres said.

Here's the "Big Shot" at Cowboy Stadium:


Willie Osterman, a professor in the institute's photographic arts department, said he considers it a kind of performance art.

“The way I like to think about this is that the audience are actually the performers," Osterman said. "If we turn out all the lights and if we didn’t have all these people there, we would not make a picture.”

Volunteers will be able to download a digital copy of the finished photo, and they'll also get a general admission ticket to the Churchill Downs Fall Meet.

For more information and to sign up, visit the Big Shot website.

(Image via Creative Commons)

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