I met Race Gentry standing with his antique camera and vintage flash lamp outside his mother’s home in La Jolla. I was there to record audio for an All Things Considered story and shoot video to accompany the interview on NPR’s website. Race is one of the few people around who uses the 100-year-old technique.
In typical tape sync fashion, Robert Siegel spoke to Race by phone. I stood next to Race, holding the mic six inches from his mouth — my recording of his voice would later be combined with the host’s voice by NPR editors, giving the conversation a higher quality, natural sound. Unfortunately, we had to stop the interview every few minutes because of the military flights going in and out of MCAS Miramar. We were also interrupted for trash collection. And again for recycling.
Race explained the process of pouring the powder in the tray, setting the percussion cap in place, pulling the trigger to ignite the cap, and the explosive flash that follows. The first flash lamp he demonstrated with wouldn’t fire. He was using toy paper caps, but the humidity or bad luck kept it from firing. He switched to another flash lamp that uses rare, original percussion caps. That definitely did the trick. The massive smoke cloud was pretty impressive.