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Long and Winding Road

May 12

In Travels at 3:57pm

Just got back from what for me, nowadays, is a long trip. Three international locales, total of 20 days on the road. It’s different now, of course. Road time used to be counted in weeks, not days. First international story I did for Geographic in the late 80’s was 17 weeks, split into just two trips. Crazy. Lived in the East End of London for all that time, in a little flat on the Isle of Dogs, which is a big loop (above) in the River Thames. Had my own local, the Tooke Arms Pub.

This photo took three weeks to shoot. Let me explain. I wandered into the Tooke, which was friendly enough but pretty rough around the edges, as estate pubs in working class neighborhoods tend to be on the East End. No one spoke to me. Had some terrible bar food and a pint of Ruddles. Walked out.

Came back the next day. And the next. Jeez, the food was horrible! I was getting the eyeball, to be sure, but not much else. Kept going. Kept at it. Finally, somebody got curious enough to strike up a conversation. That’s all I needed. Somebody broke the ice, and eventually I was accepted, albeit as an oddity. The pub became my watering hole, a listening post for what was going on in the nabe, and a wealth of potential ideas for photos to pursue.

Shot a young lady’s East End style wedding there, a riotous affair, to be sure.

Also met Robbie there, a wild and crazy Scot, and the driver of the tallest crane in Europe, working over the Canary Wharf site. Wanna come up? Sure!

Got my way to the cab of this massive jib crane, and climbed into a wire frame bucket mounted to the side rail of the jib (no OSHA, no safety belts…toughest part was actually walking out to the bucket. Round, painted steel, just a few inches thick. Crane moving in the wind. Wide, spread legged steps. Robbie called to me in his best brogue. “Now you’ve got your arse in the breeze,” he said, laughing. Said my usual prayer to St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes and photographers everywhere.)

Robbie ran me out to end of the jib in this contraption and started slewing me back and forth over the site. Got to be fun. Pictures never ran, cause they sucked, basically. Just record overviews of a bunch of girder work and dust. Best part was the ride on the jib, and then driving the crane afterwards. Robbie just cautioned me not to hit the emergency brake as the rig would crumple like paper. Okay!

Then back to the Tooke for pints.

Met a bunch of former dock workers who kept up the tradition of taking a weekly steam. Can I come along? Chuckles all around. “Well,” one old salt said. “We’ll all be in the nude!”

I said fine. Kept my Leica wrapped in a towel. Always joke I shot the whole job on one roll of film. (Had no pockets.) Also shot this.

There was considerable discussion about these pics at Geographic. One of them was gonna run big, but there was hesitation about the steamy junkyard, and ultimately the more demure photo won the day.

Time is compressed out on the road now. Which is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. This recent trip was painful. Missed home a lot. Missed Annie a lot. Enter RC and Jen.

They were in NY for the Kelby Training Days at B&H, and had made arrangements to see Annie for coffee and a bite. Annie was expecting me home that day, but not until late. The real deal was that I was landing at JFK at 8:30 in the am. Called RC from Abu Dhabi airport. Dude! Make sure you get Annie out to see you guys. Make sure she sits with her back to the door.

Landed and hit NY. Got a new shirt, socks and underwear. (14 plus hours in a coach seat…my buddy Bill at Geographic calls it “chicken and goat class.” Let’s put it this way, I wasn’t very huggable.) Went to the gym. Showered and shaved. Gussied myself up as best as this bedraggled bag of bones will allow.

Got flowers. Great guy at the market. Pulled a whole fresh bunch for me. Sat down in the bus stop at 34th and 9th tried not to go to sleep. Eyeballed the front of B&H. Called RC. All set?

Natch. RC had done the very smart thing of getting Jen to call Annie that morning and swing the deal. You see, Annie and Jen know each other really only for a few hours but it’s like they’re sisters. They know about each other’s families, inner thoughts, secrets, childhood, education, favorite foods, workout routines, nail polish, camera pointers, etc. I mean they’re women, and they’ve thoroughly embraced the gift of speech.

In between hoots, clicks and grunts, RC and I have gotten to the point of agreeing the Knicks are a mess and Isiah Thomas is an asshole.

Kidding, really. RC is a great talker and storyteller, and is an over the top, giddy, soon-to-be father. He’s also a terrific shooter, and he had his D300 in front of him, teed up and ready to go. The three of them were chatting away, at the Skylite Diner on 34th, and I slipped up behind the table. Leaned over and said, “I believe the lady ordered flowers?”

It’s been a long and winding road, to be sure, but it led me to Annie…….

Photos by RC Concepcion.

Michael S. says:

on May 12, 2008 at 4:35 pm

You have a special gift with words Joe. I always look forward to your posts!

Michael S.

Sheldon says:

on May 12, 2008 at 4:36 pm


I have been in one of those cranes when the trump building was being built in Chicago. Takes forever to get to one.

Danger Girl says:

on May 12, 2008 at 5:23 pm

Awwwwwww that was ridiculously sweet! I’m tearing up just a little.

Ken says:

on May 12, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Great Story Joe,

Oh,,,,,,,the fast lane of the “moment it arrives”

My best

Ken from KY

Adam Swords says:

on May 12, 2008 at 6:06 pm

Glad you’re home safe, Joe.
It was great to hear you speak at GPP and also to spend some more informal time at breakfast chatting.

All the best,


DanaB says:

on May 12, 2008 at 7:16 pm

That is priceless! Happy Homecoming to you both!

I just discovered your blog recently, great fun.

I’m SO enjoying ‘The Moment It Clicks’–who knew I had gotten such a treasure in an impulsive ‘must buy a photography book by someone other than Scott Kelby’ purchase?!? (My last three photog books were by that fella lol…loved ’em, don’t get me wrong!)

I had no idea your book was hot off the presses when I picked it up until I went back to get one for a friend and had to order it. I love amazing discoveries like that!!

Thanks for all you share with even those of us who play at shutterbuggin’ out here!


Bill Bogle Jr. says:

on May 12, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Joe, first your wonderful Valentine’s Day admission, and now the flowers and mother’s day. You know what’s important. Great posts, and I hope you get some time to decompress and enjoy Spring in the Northeast.

Your posts are the highlghts of many otherwise mundane days. Thanks to you and David Hobby, my flash work is getting past the mug shot look I favored for so many years.


Faye says:

on May 12, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Awwwwwww ……. that’s just SO SWEET, Joe.

I just finished reading your book, and the last page of the final chapter got me teary-eyed, the one with the picture of you hanging in front of the Empire State building and the message you had written to your kids.

I get the impression from your book that you are a tough, non-nonsense person. But underneath all that is a romantic guy at heart :)

Really loved your book, Joe. You really have a gift for writing. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom to all us shutterbugs out there!

Jason says:

on May 12, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Gotta say…been on your bog’s feed since you re-started the effort and I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed every post and your approach to life and the way you think, I’ve just got to read more, and it sounds like (from all the sunshine up your you-know-what reviews) From The Moment It Clicks is written wit equal poise, and a knack for both telling it like it is, and sharing glimpses of your personal life at the same time. Great stories, great shots, great blog! Thanks for giving the readers this glimpse into your life!

Pablo says:

on May 12, 2008 at 10:49 pm

Hey Joe,
you’re a pretty good story teller… ever think about possibly doing a book? You’re such a natural, it’ll probably just click…
Thanks, for sharing…

Mark K_NJ says:

on May 13, 2008 at 12:10 am

Welcome home, my friend. I still get chills when, after a long time abroad, you come through customs at Newark or La Gauardia or wherever, and the customs officers says “Welcome home.” Not “Welcome to New Jersey” or “Welcome to the United States.” But “Welcome home.”

And to see those last three shots of you with Annie…supremely special. Thanks for sharing those. My link above is to my love…shot in the Bahamas, natural light, converted to B&W. Anniversary #4 coming up this week…and I’m still thrilled that you and Annie were there back in ’04 on a gorgeous Sonoma evening…

Thanks for the inspiration, always.

Ken Anderson says:

on May 13, 2008 at 12:53 am

Folks from the East End of London are a breed apart. They had the crap bombed out of them in the second WW and didn’t miss a beat. Kept the docks open, food and supplies flowing for the war effort regardless of the conditions. Thousands lost their lives, unsung heros really.

The pub food still tends to be rather dire but has improved over the years. Change is something that happens here very slowly!

I hope my wife doesn’t read this or I am toast. “Why can’t you be that thoughtful?” Thanks Joe! Out of the frying pan into the fire.

jason says:

on May 13, 2008 at 2:01 am

thats real nice story joe, like some one has posted about your stories, they are always good.

they are windy like you own life, they start on one tack and end on something different but the ending is always good and to the point, in wonder sometimes do you plan the story which is normally two wrapped into one, or do they just take a natural course.

Also I see someone has posted about your book you are a tough no nonsense person well you are to the point, a good phootg just has to get the result, the image and very often the client isnt that easy to work with… you get used to bossing people about… or putting positive pressure on them to work with you. so you can get thee result they do want..time is money and all that. the post was also correct about being a romantic… he is passionate about all the good things including his work in his life.

enjoy some time and rest with your family…all the best


Dan says:

on May 13, 2008 at 2:11 am

Your such a real person. Your writings are great! Thank you for all that you share.

So how do you take a photo of a room full of naked guys with out getting the snot beat out of you?

Geoff says:

on May 13, 2008 at 5:14 am

If you didn’t pick up some rhyming slang whilst ‘up east’ I’ll be upset Joe me old china!

Iden Ford says:

on May 13, 2008 at 7:58 am

I LOVE LOVE this story. And it would work even without photos because you’re such a damn good writer! thanks for sharing

Steve says:

on May 13, 2008 at 9:47 am

Smiles and a tear. Awesome.

Frank Hott says:

on May 13, 2008 at 9:52 am

You enabled me to “tear up” a little with your welcome home. RC was there to be our “fly on the wall.” Good on you and your loved ones.

Yes, your book was terrific, but your skill with words competes with your skill to capture moments to share….

Thanks Joe for the hard work you do to keep this blog going. Thanks for “being our friend” as you share a part of your life.

Dave says:

on May 13, 2008 at 10:24 am

Any advice on travel bags to carry a camera, a few lenses, flash and pocket wizards,and latop all in one bag. I figure you’ve been through a few and have some ideas…


Skunkabilly says:

on May 13, 2008 at 11:12 am


Dominique says:

on May 13, 2008 at 1:13 pm

She’s worth a thousand flowers and much more… for waiting for her ‘guy’

Paulo Rodrigues says:

on May 13, 2008 at 1:47 pm

What a fantastic gesture and having the foresight to arrange for someone to photograph the moment is just priceless. I can really feel the motion in those photos. Well done that man!

Tootie-Frootie says:

on May 13, 2008 at 1:59 pm

You are one romantic son of a gun, Joe! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, ideas and feelings on this terrific blog. I don’t read a lot of blogs since many/most are so much hot air. Yours is always entertaining — thanks for the effort to put it out there.

Laurie Peacock says:

on May 13, 2008 at 2:24 pm

I loved this post. I can so relate to you and Annie and the long distance thing. Adorable.

Rich Michaels says:

on May 13, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Great story, welcome back to NY.

Casey says:

on May 14, 2008 at 5:38 am

Great story. Always nice to come home to someone you love.

Justin says:

on May 14, 2008 at 7:05 pm

What a wonderful story! I used to those kinds of things when I was in love…

Esam Kabli says:

on May 15, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Welcome Home, Joe…^_^

Shane says:

on May 28, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Wow, how did you take this picture and show off your eagle tattoo at the same time?

waylan says:

on June 27, 2008 at 7:10 pm

the captures at the end really tell the story. and its really a story, from beginning to end. the fast paced life you lead as a photog.

Joe I’m a first time visitor to the blog, but I already found enough goodness to subscribe to the feed.

as a yofo (though never taken a workshop) i have an inner emotional reaction to the Moment it Clicks home page quote. “It’s about being a photographer.” hell yea..

cheers. already i learn about new tools (the Honl!)

take care.

Dawid says:

on November 21, 2009 at 10:02 am

That english food in the late 80’s I bet it was terrible. :)

Dave camilleri says:

on February 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Hi I was 1 of the people that was playing cards in the tooke arm pub you were a bit of a novelty yank to us all and I remember Robbie the scot may he R.I.P good memories.

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