Sunday, July 17, 2011

Light Painting Whoops

The last couple nights I've been going to the Zamami dam to do some light painting experimentation.  You may remember the shot we did with sparks last weekend at the workshop.  Well, my idea was to get a cool effect by having the sparks to bounce down the front of the dam.  So tonight I ran up to just get one shot before the near-full moon came up and made the lighting situation different.  Unfortunately there is a typhoon bearing down on us and the winds are a bit stronger than usual.  I thought that had the potential to result in a cool effect, but I also knew it could be dangerous.

[did this last night, hoped to get this effect across whole face of dam tonight]

To get the little sparks, we use very fine gauge steel wool attached to a stick with a clip on it.  After clipping in the steel wool, it is lit with a lighter and then waved through the air and short-lived, tiny sparks fly out.  The harder it's waved the further the sparks will fly.  Well my goal from the top of the dam wasn't to have sparks fly a long distance, rather I just wanted them to fall straight and bounce down the dam.  Unfortunately something went awry and the entire piece of steel wool fell out of the clip and bounced down the dam.  I regretted my misfortune and went to grab another piece of wool, but then came back to watch what the strong winds were doing to the lit wool on the ground at the base of the dam.  It was glowing orange for a few seconds and nearly out when the grass next to it lit up in flames.  A big gust of wind came and the stalk of grass on fire instantly turned into a 1m fire that continued to grow.  I started shouting expletives while I sprinted across the top of the dam, down the stairs, and back across the base, only to discover that my fire was on the roof of a shed (or something).  It was too high to scale so I couldn't get up and stamp out the fire (and I probably couldn't have done that even if I could've reached it).  The fire was roaring at this point and I was freaking out.  I ran over to my camera, thinking 'I've got to get out of here!' but thankfully that thought passed quickly.  I went back to the fire, back to my camera, back to the fire, rode my bike around and up atop the dam, all the while hoping the fire would just go out but equally afraid it would jump off the roof and down onto the flats, where it would only take wind to get blown into the village. I really didn't want to go report it to the village for a multitude of reasons (my job could be on the line?) but I decided that was the best thing to do, so I rode as hard as I could, trying to figure out who I could find to properly explain the urgency of the situation.  I did immediately find a guy with decent enough English that I could get the point across that there was a fire and I started it, though it was futile to explain how I started it and what I was doing up there.  He wasn't convinced of the need to call the fire engine, though, until he saw the fire, so I raced him back up there quickly.  After surveying the fire we both agreed that it was probably going to be okay (so long as it didn't jump), but that we should call anyway.  For the next 15 minutes we watched as the fire burned through all the fuel on the roof and gradually went out.  When there were still two small pieces of wood on fire, the cars showed up.  I was afraid word would get out and the whole village arrive, but luckily only four guys came.

Interestingly enough, one of the guys who came reads my blog and in trying to understand what in the world I was doing on top of the dam with fire, he suddenly blurted out "light painting!"  I said "Yes!"  and he proceeded to explain to the other guys what it was.  Then they gave me a quick lecture about not playing with fire in a typhoon and I gave the most formal apology I could think of in Japanese and they all said not to worry about it, it's fine.  We'll see if there is any fallout in the days to come.  I know without a doubt, though, that this story is spreading like wildfire through the village right now and will almost certainly go into the annals of Zamami ALT (English teacher) history.

Since my camera was running during the whole event I ended up with a picture of it, which I actually quite like:

[you can see the streak where the steel wool fell off the dam on the right, star trails above, and my white headlamp sprinting down the stairs on the left and across the base of the dam]

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