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Remember when you were 10 years old
and your grandpa gave you a pack of lady
fingers on the 4th of July? You could hardly
wait to find a couple of buddies and go
blow them off! And they were so precious
that you rationed them one at a time.
Well... some of us just never grew up! 

The one big difference is that now I can
afford those little Chinese crackers and
blow up as many as I want. I was always
intrigued with fireworks, but photography
gave my interest an even stronger push
over the past few decades. But to get
really good fireworks photos, it helps to
have a comprehension of the chemistry
and physics at work. The Pyrotechnics
brotherhood is the second great universal
fraternity that I belong to. Fireworks artists
and technicians the world over share the
same emotional bond. Who can make
new colors and patterns, or a bigger bang? 

Since 1985, Montreal has hosted the most prestigious
Fireworks Competition in the world: "The Golden Jupiter
Award". Each summer the skies over the Saint Lawrence
River echo with the thunder of thousands of shells and
aerial bombs when up to 10 countries compete for the
coveted trophy. To win is to be acknowledged as the best
in the world. The shows are set to music in what is known
as a "Pyromusicale". Up to 500,000 people crowd the Old
Port, the Jacques Cartier Bridge and the grounds of the La
Ronde Amusement Park to witness the half hour spectacles.
I have been the photographer for the city since the event's
inception. It has also given me the opportunity to meet some
of the world's best pyrotechnicians and led me to some of
the great events in the United States.

Long live the "Orgasm of the Retina".
 

The preparations for a Jupiter show can take several
days, entailing a crew of 50 or more technicians. As
many as 10,000 shells can be involved. In this photo,
Jim Shih of China's Sunny Fireworks supervises the
installation of 8 inch shells in a bank of mortars for
China's entry: "The Yellow River". Most shows are fired
by computer. The times required to lift the shell and the
delays before they explode are precisely calculated to
ensure proper synchronization with the music. Various
effects are achieved using combinations of fireworks.
Aerial shells, candles, strobes, rockets, pinwheels,
fountains, gerbs and ground displays are blended with
a rich vocabulary created by the industry over hundreds
of years. A variety of audio effects are also used from
crackles, whistles and pops to blockbuster explosions
and salutes. Soundtracks often feature the classics
along with popular music and themes from movies and
Broadway shows.

Over time I came to know several
people who convinced me to join
the Pyrotechnics Guild International,
a global organization dedicated to
safety and the advancement of
fireworks. Each summer PGI holds
a convention that features nightly
spectaculars and competitions.

By day there seminars on everything there is to know
about fireworks. Amateurs and novices are welcome
and gain an opportunity to learn from veterans.
Shown here is the "Class C" tent where members can
purchase items to shoot off under supervision.

Enthusiasts can roughly be divided into two camps. There are those who like to create color
and pattern, building aerial shells that break multiple times and produce interesting effects.
And there are those who like to make noise. The Ground Bomb range can get very loud!
And of course the public is invited to attend the nightly displays offered by manufacturers and
individual competitors. It's important to note that safety is always the first concern. All events
are conducted with an emphasis on security. One of the highlights of the Convention is the
lighting of the "Superstring" - consisting of several million tiny lady finger firecrackers lit at
once! You can't imagine the deafening roar produced by such miniscule fireworks. The art of
pyrotechnics dates back nearly 1000 years; it's no wonder it continues to generate the same
excitement today. And the future promises more advances - new colors, intricate designs and

                                                                 BIGGER BANGS!