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Apr 3

In On Location, Thoughts at 12:10am

Last week was a week and a half. It went by in a whoosh, which is always the way of a DLWS week. We start off on Sunday afternoon, clean our sensors, have a cookie and Boom! It’s Thursday.

We were in Moab, with lots of reds rocks, but the twist of the week was going to this little ghost type junk pile of a town called Cisco. I realize that last sentence might offend the 3 people who live in Cisco, but there ain’t no getting around it—the burg is basically a big car garden by the side of a very lonely county road.

But I loved it. Give me old, dilapidated, run down and rusted out any day of the week. Why is it that photographers look at a place most people would figure to be a likely setting for a crime and go, “Cool!”?

Got home late Thursday night. Had a bit of a family weekend, thankfully. Monday. Up at 3. Back on a plane. Oh well. Staggered through LaGuardia Airport. For whatever reason, I tripped the metal detectors, and I wasn’t even trying to pull off a Spinal Tap. Dunno. My fillings, maybe? Had to get frisked and wanded. Generally speaking, when you hear somebody snap on a rubber glove immediately behind you, it’s not gonna be a good day. I tend to disappear, and imagine the wand thingy is the thingy that Bones used to use on Star Trek. “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker!”

There was great stuff in Cisco, even though I’ve never been a very good “thing” photographer. I tend to need people, context, story line, that sort of stuff. I’m liking photographing things of late, though. Maybe I’m tired of 30 years of people asking, “How long is this gonna take?” (Answer: “As little time as possible!” Big smile.)

It’s wonderful, actually, being a people photog. I’ve met amazing folks. But it has it’s downside, too. I got introduced to the vagaries of photographing very important people a long time ago. My first cover of Sports Illustrated was of Herschel Walker. If you remember Herschel, you’re either old, a real football fan, from Georgia, or a bobsledder. Herschel was switching leagues, and headed for the Dallas Cowboys. This was big news.

To work with somebody like Herschel, you need to deal with a sports agent. Some are wonderful. Others are like gum on the bottom of your shoe. The situation here was that the deal was done, but the ink wasn’t dry on the signatures, so the only cover I could shoot was of Herschel with the Dallas helmet halfway on. I’m not kidding. Only game in town. Shoot it with the helmet just off his head or don’t shoot it.

Not one to let the fact that I knew the picture was gonna suck before I even took my cameras out of the bag stand in the way of a cover fee, I shot it. Met Herschel, who was a great athlete but a bit of an odd duck. He kept referring to himself in the third person, as in, “Herschel has to do what’s best for Herschel.”

Right. And Joe has to do what’s best for Joe and shoot this job and get back on a plane to the planet earth.

Anyway, high angle, 3×4 soft box in close, out of focus greenery in the background, and we were done. It alerted me to the fact that a soulless snap of a photograph could do just fine as a cover of a national magazine. Covers are not photographs, they are trained seals, designed to make noise and entertain. They need to jump through certain hoops, like being visible on a newsstand from 30 yards in a sea of other pubs trumpeting weight loss solutions, have large swatches of out of focus monochrome so star spangled type and a sticker announcing this month’s subscriber contest actually enhances the picture, and a bland little corner to accommodate the bar coding.

Cisco, by comparison, made no such demands. Cisco was, in fact, a very good friend of mine.

(This is another one of those weeks. Here teaching at Photoshop World. Whoah! Pretty crazy. Lots of fun. Time flying. More tk.)

Stan says:

on April 3, 2008 at 1:09 am

Cisco reminds me of the Toronto Brickworks – run down, dilapidated, and flocking with us photographers. Cept there’s actually a pretty big public presence there..

Rutgher says:

on April 3, 2008 at 4:12 am

Finally your book arrived yesterday. Very good stuff. Come and visit The Netherlands some time for a workshop. We Dutch people have the right to you insites as well 😉


on April 3, 2008 at 6:46 am


John Leonard says:

on April 3, 2008 at 7:31 am

Old run down places are cool. I have one near my home that I go to often.

Here is a link to one picture:

It even has a “Hole of Death”

The place is just cool, and yes things generally cooperate with you better then people. Even the rusty ones….. things that it is.

Dan Bannister says:

on April 3, 2008 at 8:44 am

I’ve never collected any kind of sports cards, even as a kid but, 15 or so years ago, a friend of mine who was into “investment grade sports memorabilia” said that, “at $2 the Hershchel Walker Rookie card from “somebubblegumcompany” represented a platinum investment opportunity not to be missed.” I bought the card and forgot all about it.
I don’t know what happened to all the platinum, Walker fell off the football radar within 15 minutes of my buying the card, I lost touch with the friend years ago and now I’m just a middle aged guy with an embarrassing collection of sports cards mouldering away in the garage.

Matthew says:

on April 3, 2008 at 9:11 am

“Covers are not photographs, they are trained seals, designed to make noise and entertain. ” This has got to be one one of my favorite photo-related quotes of the last several years. It certainly explains a lot.

Mark K. says:

on April 3, 2008 at 9:53 am

Wow, what a great spot for some photos. Fanastic stuff in this posting. And it never ceases to amaze me that when I see a photo that I recognize from my yout (say it like Joe P. in My Cousin Vinny), it turns out you shot it. Amazing.

Speaking of old, couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to shoot an old restaurant that was ready for the wrecking ball. Link above. Lucky I did to – it’s gone now.

kathyt says:

on April 3, 2008 at 9:55 am

I am headed to Arches in exactly 22 days (not counting or anything like that!) I will have to try an go by Cisco. I have a question — I am a total ninny when it comes to lighting (actually a total ninny with the whole photography thing –but I am working at it) When you use those gels over the SU800 — ya just tap them on — do you then put that little diffusion dome over the top or just leave it off?? –also is there a really good lighting book for ninnies?? thanks kathyt (aka the ninny)

suden says:

on April 3, 2008 at 9:56 am

Do I remember Herschel? Yeah, he was that really big guy in one of my classes…and he almost ran over me once while I was waiting on the sidelines with the band to perform the halftime show…oh, and he could play some damn good Bulldawg football!

Great cover shot, by the way!

Lynn Rogers says:

on April 3, 2008 at 10:08 am

I’m old enough to remember Herschel Walker. My children named their pet rabbit Herschel Hopper – Hershey for short. : )

kathyt says:

on April 3, 2008 at 12:57 pm

OOPs should be tape the gel on — sorry I let my fingers do the walking on the key board.

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on April 3, 2008 at 10:35 pm

We refer to the problem ones as Reeboks, or if really bad, double Reeboks – you know, the tread on the bottom of the sneaker that you really have to get a screwdriver or an ice pick to get the last of the ****, oops, I mean “stuf” out of the tread of that sneaker. No matter how hard you try, it is not a welcome event.

Great shots of Cisco. You are da man with light.


Curtis says:

on April 4, 2008 at 6:52 pm

I love Cisco, it’s the fastest way into Moab from Denver (a trip I try to make at least twice a year). Glad to see you hit the desert Southwest and have a good experience!

— C

Richard says:

on April 5, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Hey Joe, caught your seminar at Photoshop World on Thur. morning.

Even though I shoot mostly still life and never use portable flash I found your
talk very interesting. You are one of those type of photographers who ‘s work
is very good and I bet has quite a few good stories to tell.

Here’s hoping we can share a few beers together sometime.

Great talk, Num nuts!!

charlie pappas says:

on April 7, 2008 at 9:55 am

Herschel Walker.

I went to school with him. I was in news and sports radio at the time and collected everything Herschel. This included all of the SI covers.

Today I’m a photographer and saw you were speaking at the Nikon booth at PPA this year.


Who shoots the D3 and loves Herschel and a Joe McNally fan!

Ryan says:

on May 5, 2008 at 10:06 pm

I remember Herschel Walker for when he played for the Eagles here. My father was his biggest fan…

Funny you should mention that he kept referring to himself in the third person. I heard a month or so ago that he announced that he has been suffering from multiple personality disorder for some time. Maybe he wasn’t referring to himself after all.

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