Defying the Elements – Portrait of Big Duck

Opening the ICP Programs Guide and thumbing through the first few pages, one soon comes upon a big duck introducing the spring classes. Residing in Flanders he welcomes visitors to the eastern end of Long Island.  Many have known him a long time, but I wasn’t introduced to him until a couple of years ago. I immediately recognized his greatness.

Talking CAN make things happen

I’ve been trying to define portraiture for a long time, but words elude me. We usually think of it as an art form that portrays people, but I see no reason why one can’t make portraits of buildings and places as well. As soon as I saw Big Duck, I knew I wanted to make his. As magical as nocturnal photography can be, the nighttime light that falls on Big Duck doesn’t do him justice.  I knew I had to take the lighting into my own hands. That meant equipment. Since I don’t have a car, and I only “sort of” drive, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do this.

Sometimes talking about something incessantly kills it, and sometimes it’s the only way to make it happen. After more than a year of hearing about how much I wanted to make a portrait of Big Duck, my friend, Lyn Silfen, took pity and offered to aid and abet me. She and another friend, Mary Ciullo, helped me pack all the gear into the car, and off we went.

To capture his full grandeur I had to photograph Big Duck just as daylight disappeared but before the hideous display lights were turned on. It’s a very brief window at best.

Just how much I wanted the shot

1st attempt: Monday night. Rain had been predicted for later that evening. When we arrived, the sky was gray and heavy with voluptuous clouds. In real life things looked ugly, but actually it was perfect. I just had to make it happen. In an hour all the lights were in place, and I had my framing. Big duck sat proudly waiting for his moment.

Nature had other plans. Just as I fired off a shot or two, the sky opened up. We made a mad dash for the car with the camera still on the tripod and batteries dangling off light stands.

Round #2

2nd Attempt: Tuesday. It was a perfect night, which meant that it was terrible for the vision I had. The sky was impossibly blue and cloudless. Ugly shadows fell on Big Duck. Bitching and moaning I set up the lights anyway.

Testing the lights and looking through the lens, I didn’t see what was behind me. When Mary told me that she thought there was a tornado coming in from the east, I rudely told her to stop fooling around. However:

This time I was determined. I had to go back to New York the next day. The lights were in place, and nothing was going to stop me. It started to rain. Lyn and Mary were trying to get me back to the car. “You’re going to get electrocuted!”

“It’s okay.”I said “Just one more shot!” (Which everyone knows is never one more shot.) I shot until the battery packs were about to short out. Not recommended, believe me, but this time Big Duck’s portrait was mine.

Location shots: courtesy of Lyn Silfen

About Carol Dragon

Carol Dragon is a New York City photographer who focuses on portraiture. Her dramatic approach to capturing the essence of her subjects is done in a style reminiscent of master painters and yet is very much her own. Carol is one of the featured photographers in the recently released 100 New York Photographers by Cynthia Dantzig. She has a BFA and a MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. Her client list includes CBS, Scholastic Publishing, AOL Time Warner and Anson Mills. She is available for commissioned work worldwide.
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One Response to Defying the Elements – Portrait of Big Duck

  1. Lisa says:

    great photos and story, Carol! I love it!
    XXOO Lisa

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