PAUL did it! Working on adrenaline and aided by a team of technical experts, photographer Paul Hosefros made his historic portrait of more than 100 people in front of Philadelphia's Independence Hall last Sunday, capturing on film a capsule portrait of America at the Millennium.
"I'm going to Disney World!" an exhausted yet exuberant Hosefros said by phone within hours after he made the shot -- or shots, actually. With nothing left to chance, several different versions of the photograph were made in various photographic formats and on various films, with the final results beamed around the country and the world on the Internet. The city of Philadelphia billed the picture as the Photo of the Century and the idea was to picture at least one United States citizen with a July 4th birthday from every year of the 20th century, from 99-year-old Betty Marx to newborn Sara Elizabeth Kitz.
In the humid light of morning, it's a wonder this picture got made at all.
Last month I had accompanied Paul on the first technical run-through for the mammoth group portrait. On that day in mid-June the biggest concern was that the Powerlight 2500 DR strobe units being supplied for the shoot by Photogenic Professional Lighting would have the firepower necessary to let Paul work at his desired aperture of f.22 for such a large photograph. (Reliable and sturdy though these units are said to be, they are more often the tools of wedding and studio portrait shooters.)
It was touch-and-go for a while, Paul reported. It didn't help that a TV boom knocked over one of the lights right before the session -- but ultimately the Photogenic units did the job. (Fortunately Paul got a welcome eleventh-hour technical assist from Baltimore lighting wizard Carl Caruso. Carl came to Philly the night before the shoot to help the tech crew get the most out of the lighting at hand.) Paul also got additional on-the-ground help from Bill Auth, lab chief at US News and World Report as well as from Todd Andrews from Nikon Professional Services in Washington. Each had experience with making technically challenging photographs of large news events.
"I'm just so relieved," Paul told me. "The crowd control was impossible." In fact, it appeared that none of the assembled media -- there to photograph Paul taking a photograph -- was interested in making his job any easier. Listening to my friend describe how he had to ride herd on more than 100 of his subjects as well as on an equally large and unruly gaggle of newsies, I thought to myself there was no way I could have handled such an assignment without going loudly and publicly ballistic, and probably ruining the shoot.
But Paul, who is nothing if not cool, maintained his and did the job.
As previously reported, the main cameras involved were 35mm digital units (used mostly as backup), as well as a 4-by-5 view camera and a Hasselblad 503C with a 50mm wide angle lens. As Paul and I had thought, the best shots of the day came very early in the shoot, when everyone's energy was highest. Besides the gorgeous Hassy shots, the view camera image blew everyone away for its sharp detail as well as for the fact that these shots (made on Kodak's amazing new Portra 400 NC color print film) reflected the best ambient lighting of the day, with the sun just kissing the top of Independence Hall.
In the triumphant aftermath of the session, little things like falling lightstands, or the fact that a city electrical crew didn't supply juice to the site until right before the photo session, were forgotten.
By the way, Paul didn't really go to Disney World. But he did say he was looking forward to a triumphal and large lobster dinner.
Next week in this space: Stamps and Coins columnist Bill McAllister.
CAPTION: The "Photo of the Century," taken in front of Independence Hall on Independence Day, included more than 100 U.S. citizens born on July 4.