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Inventor of Gaffer Tape has Died

"Gaffer tape (also known as gaffer's tape or gaff tape as well as spike tape for narrow, colored gaffer tape) is a heavy cotton cloth pressure sensitive tape with strong adhesive and tensile properties. It is widely used in theatre, photography, film and television production, and industrial staging work." -- Wikipedia

Where would theatre artists be without gaffer tape? It is so easy to use. It can be torn by hand and comes in a rainbow of colors. In theatre it is used to lay out the floor plan for rehearsals, "spike" the stage for correct placement of furniture and set pieces, and divide props preset on tables backstage. Gaffer tape holds plays together.

I knew nothing about Lowell until today. This obituary from PDN Pulse is a nice summary of his contributions to technical magic:

"Ross Lowell, the award-winning director, cinematographer and founder of Lowel-Light who created gaffer tape while fashioning lighting solutions for TV productions, died January 10 at his home in Pound Ridge, New York, according to his wife, Marilyn Shapiro-Lowell. He was 92.

Born in New York City in 1926, Lowell attended film school at UCLA before he served in the U.S. Navy, where he became a photographer. In the 1950s, he worked as a cinematographer in film and the new medium of television. He became frustrated with the few lighting options available for shooting TV footage outside broadcast studios. He fashioned a small socket on a ball swivel that could accept a flood light and also be attached to various mounts.

He eventually founded Lowel-Light, and designed other portable lighting systems, including grips and reflectors. He held more than 20 patents and in 1979 won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement for “the development of compact lighting equipment for motion picture photography.”

He was tinkering with his first prototype for a swivel lighting mount when he produced one of Lowel-Light’s most popular products. Lowell wanted to tape his lights to a vertical surface, but he needed a heat-resistant tape that would not leave sticky residue on the wall, according to Shapiro-Lowell. He discovered Johnson & Johnson’s Permacel tape, also known as “duct tape” because it was used on ducts and heating coils. He found a way to affix the adhesive used on Permacel to silver fabric, and Lowel-Light introduced “gaffer tape” to the market.

Lowell continued directing and shooting films, including the short film Oh Brother, Oh Brother, which was nominated for an Oscar.

In 1992, he published a book, Matters of Light and Depth: Creating Memorable Images for Video, Film and Stills Through Lighting, a guide to lighting that explains the use of light by various photographers, film directors and painters.

Lowell is survived by his wife, four children and ten grandchildren, as well as a sister and two nieces."


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