February 28, 2019

Ross Lowell, Inventor of Gaffer Tape, Has Passed Away at 92

We owe this man everything.

Some sad news began circulating the internet this week for filmmakers, as it was revealed that Ross Lowell, inventor of gaffer tape, died January 10th at his home in Pound Ridge, New York. In addition to founding the lighting company Lowel-Light, the maverick of filmmaking ingenuity was also an award-winning director and cinematographer.

As a cinematographer in the 1950s, Lowell became frustrated with the lighting options available for shooting footage outside broadcast studios, so he began experimenting with alternate ways of lighting. His first idea was to fashion a small socket on a ball swivel that could accept a flood light and also be attached to various mounts.

His company, Lowel-Light, continued down this path and designed more portable lighting systems. By the time he was done, he held more than 20 patents for his lighting products. This led to an Academy Award for Technical Achievement in 1979 for “the development of compact lighting equipment for motion picture photography.”

It was in the process of creating his swivel lighting mount that Lowell found a need to create a kind of heat-resistant tape that could be used to tape lights to a vertical surface. Essentially, he took the adhesive used on duct tape and attached to a type of fabric, and “gaffer tape” was born.

As filmmakers, we all owe this man a tremendous amount of gratitude.     

Your Comment

4 Comments

He helped make independent film possible. Before he introduced compact location lighting kits, only big budget films could afford all the huge lights & crews needed to work on location. His equipment was designed with the versatility needed by a location filmmaker in mind. He was one of them, and knew what was needed. That was the key.

February 28, 2019 at 7:19PM

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He helped make independent film possible. Before he introduced compact location lighting kits, only big budget films could afford all the huge lights & crews needed to work on location. His equipment was designed with the versatility needed by a location filmmaker in mind. He was a filmmaker and knew what was needed, that was the key.

February 28, 2019 at 7:33PM, Edited February 28, 7:33PM

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Filmmaking would be much harder without gaffer tape. Used for so many things.
And Lowell lights. We've all used his lights.

One of the first things people not in the biz ask me is "What's a gaffer?", (then followed by What's a grip? and What's a best boy?.)

March 1, 2019 at 2:07PM

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I actually worked as second assistant cameraman on a commercial shoot in 1973 or 74 up in Boston. Lowell had come up from NY to shoot it. The equipment he designed was totally in tune with what was happening with independent and small scale filmmaking then. And as for gaffer tape, well, say no more.

March 1, 2019 at 6:04PM

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Andy Harmon
Writer-Director
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Gaffer Tape - classic example of one solution achieving many solutions. I'm sure we've all dodged a showstopper at some point or another with a little gaff tape.

March 3, 2019 at 7:20PM

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