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Jun 5

In Stories, Travels at 2:12pm

The blog’s been a touch erratic. (Okay, remember who writes it.) But definitely having ups and downs. Truth is, I’ve been completely knackered of late. It’s been harder than usual for my pinball machine of a brain to make it to the keyboard. Fatigued. Get up in the morning, and feel like going back to bed–right away.

Plus my legs have been killing me. No surprise there. Trust me, after being a photog for 30 odd years, there’s not too much on my body that don’t hurt. My legs have taken the biggest beating. When I started in this game, it was standard operating procedure to use a camera bag (Domke was the way to go) and walk, run, adjust, bend, climb, scurry, jump, sing and dance all day long with a 40 pound anchor on your shoulder. This is the reason the x-rays of lots of photogs spines look like the S curves at LeMans.

My back, being of Irish descent, remains intact, thankfully. But the knees and ankles–yikes. I think about the offensive linemen in the NFL, the big guys. They pretty much shoot their lower extremities to hell and back in the course of a 5-10 year career. A fast cha-cha to Limpville. For photogs, it’s more of a slow bump and grind. You basically throw your knees in a blender and hit stir instead of liquefy. It takes longer, but the end result is the same. After an average Olympics, for example, for about a week I’ll unfold out of bed like an unwieldy, collapsible card table. When I was shooting the Sydney Games, for instance, my first few steps of every day sounded like I was walking on bubble wrap.

But lately, with both the pain and the fatigue meter spiking, my wonderful wife, Annie, blessedly (and sternly) greeted me at the door and turned my sorry ass around and pointed it at the doctor’s office. Pop diagnosis? Lyme disease. I pretty much concur. Had a bout of it before.

First got it in Nashville, on assignment for SI. I was shooting Mike Reid, former pro football player turned singer-songwriter,  and lighting his house from the outside, traipsing my lights around his garden.

Then shot in a local theater….

Noticed at the end of the day I had picked up a tick. Hmmm. Not much I could do about it, cause my next stop was Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost tip of the continental United States, and one of the true garden spots of all time. My ultimate destination was Cooper Island, a tiny stretch of ice and sand a bit off the off the North Coast. I was shooting a cover for the New York Times Sunday magazine, and was going there to profile George Divokey, an ornithologist who had been studying a colony of birds on Cooper for over 20 years. His copious notebooks of their behavior had become an empirical, indisputable record of bird biology to be sure, but additionally, very significantly, global warming.

Had to helicopter out there due to the ice conditions, and the weather had us socked in for two days. Welcome to Barrow.

I was staying in a shack of a hotel, feeling worse and worse, and by the time I got choppered out (small bird, had to lash all my gear onto stretcher boards out on the skids) I was running about 103 fever or so. No source of heat on the island, except the cooking stove. Had a pup tent, out there shimmering around in the icy wind. I crawled into my sleeping bag and started dosing myself with antibiotics I had in my old Nat Geo medicine kit.

It’s all a little fuzzy now, but I basically spent two days sleeping and taking doxycycline. Poor George thought the magazine had really sent a deadbeat. Out there they give you a PLB (personal locator beacon) which, if you punch the button, means the Coast Guard rescue choppers are on the way. I remember looking at that thing. The magazine was paying me the princely sum of $350 bucks a day to shoot this, and I thought, ya know, I don’t wanna die out here. Had all sorts of fever induced imaginings. Like my remains would be eaten, along with my Kodachrome, by a polar bear and crapped out on the tundra, and then found many years later by a team from the National Geographic, and somehow the pictures would be published, albeit in a different magazine.

Spent 8 days out there with George, his research assistant Tamara Enz, call sign Tango Echo, and the birds.

George is a great guy, very dedicated scientist. He did enjoy the fact that when I returned to life, I was very hungry, and started cooking up a whole bunch of Dinty Moore stuff with red pepper and anything else spicy I could find in the food locker. Also, the article did him some good, cause he ended up on the Letterman Show of all places, which had to help his fund raising. We’re still in touch, off and on.

But the antibiotics are kicking in! Feel better today than I have in two weeks, and I’m driving everybody in the studio nuts. I think they’re gonna hide my prescription. Got some energy back, thanks to my doc, and my regular breakfast of cheerios, skim milk, a banana, a couple of those little red sudafeds, and 8 cups of Cafe’ Bustelo.

Good thing too, cause there’s a bunch of stuff in the pipe. On a plane tonight to Italy. Then, in couple weeks, a commercial gig I be looking forward to. Great folks, fun to work for. Got a Geographic job cooking now, and a story coming out in the June issue. More on that stuff, as they say, tk….

Younes says:

on June 5, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Great story! Hope you feel better.

Rory says:

on June 5, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Hey Joe, sorry to hear about the illness. Great story though! Keep up the blogging, it’s nearly as good as the photographs, and very entertaining!

harry says:

on June 5, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Hi Joe, I had lymes disease last year, it felt like being an old old man. Then headed out to Russia taking some pretty physical pictures trying to persuade the guy’s I’m visiting that I’m not normally this much of a wimp. Hope you beat it soon.

Oliver Berner says:

on June 5, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Hello Joe,
sorry to hear about your diagnosis. Got a friend with borreliosis, took the doctors about 10 years to find out. Tricky disease. My best wishes to you.

btw.: interesting post about the not so glamourous side of a photographers life.
… hmmm, maybe you should have just photographed the Olympics instead of taking part.

cheers, olli

Harry Pocius says:

on June 5, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Wow, sorry to hear about the lyme disease. Glad to know you are feeling better. I’m surprised you needed the antibiotics with bustelo.

Charles Verghese says:

on June 5, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Hey Joe…Take it easy & hope you get to feeling better. Money you can make. A body is much harder to replace…if at all!

Scares me as to what I have to go through…to reach your dizzying heights!


atpanda says:

on June 5, 2009 at 4:18 pm

What a story! But oh my, your pictures sure didn’t suffer.

anita says:

on June 5, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Take good care and travel safe. Are you thinking about your next book yet? Your foreword for David duChemin’s book was beautifully written.

Edd says:

on June 5, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Take care man.

Mark says:

on June 5, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Take care of those achin’ joints, Joe! Advil is your friend!

Seriously, feel better. Soon.

And I still have that issue of NY Times magazine. What a story.

Zeke says:

on June 5, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Hi Joe,

Sorry to hear about the Lyme troubles. I got it myself a few years ago shooting in upstate NY. Damn ticks!

If ever you want to try something drastic to get rid of the Lyme, you could try Macrobiotic. It’s kinda like macro photography, but not at all. :) I’ve been eating macrobiotic for almost a year and all my health troubles have vanished.

Feel better!


Pat McCuen says:

on June 5, 2009 at 5:39 pm


From your first words about fatigue I feared Lyme was the culprit. My daughter is in her second round of Lyme herself and I recognized the symptoms. The first time a single course of antibiotics knocked it down for the better part of a year. This time she’s needed a somewhat stronger regimen. Bless Annie for sending you to the Doc. Keep aware of the possiblity of a relapse and welcome back to the land of the living. Looking forward to your next installment.


Nick Roush says:

on June 5, 2009 at 5:57 pm

glad your feeling better joe.

Art Howard says:

on June 5, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Great story on George!! I visited him for NSF after you were there. One of the all time great guys, and dedicated scientist and as always your images were outstanding. I wanted to share my video with you as your post brought back fond memories.
short and small…

Thanks for writing encouraging and informative books too.

Best ,

Joe Leong says:

on June 5, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Take care of yourself, Joe. Our health is most important and one gets to appreciate it as we get older. You’ve done us proud sharing so much of your work … and humour. Thanks

Carol Schiraldi says:

on June 5, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Hope you get to feeling better, Joe. Have a great time at VSP.

Michael Reinhart says:

on June 5, 2009 at 6:56 pm

About 15 or 20 years ago, I saw Mike Read perform in a songwriter’s workshop. I’m not really a country music guy, but his song was wonderful. I think it was called Old Folks. He has a wonderful voice… that deep baritone and his monstrous hands on the keys while he was singing this beautiful ballad was a paradox… must have been an interesting shoot.


Cindy Farr-Weinfeld says:

on June 5, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Dear Joe–get better soon! Lyme disease is nothing to sneeze at–hope you’re all mended and feeling like a million bucks (but not all green and wrinkly) soon–sounds like you’re on the way. I love your blog posts and your books and I’d hate to think I might miss out on one b/c you’re under the weather, my friend! Get better! Cindy

John A. says:

on June 5, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Glad to hear you’re feeling better! Hang in there and watch out for those ticks!!!

martin says:

on June 5, 2009 at 7:55 pm

As we age it’s not about avoiding pain, but managing it.

Since photog is my hobby in retirement, I pick only light and limited gear. If I can’t do that way I don’t do it.

patrick uy, philippines says:

on June 5, 2009 at 8:14 pm

hi Joe, with regards to the lyme disease- check out this book Rhodiola Revolution by Dr. Richard Brown, MD associate clinical professor of pshychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons & wife Dr Patricia Gerbarg,MD — His Wife Dr Gerbarg got that same lyme disease due to a tick from a deer and have used the herbal pill– Rhodiola Rosea , an adaptogen (family of ginseng but without side effects of palpitations- King of Adaptogen)derive from a high altitude plant from Siberia or Tibet. you may google search Rhodiola rosea , Herbalgram, American Botanical Council. Rhodiola can enhance mental & physical energy.

Get well soon.


Frank McPartland says:

on June 5, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Joe: I hope you are felling better soon!

-Frank McPartland

Will Foster says:

on June 5, 2009 at 8:47 pm

So last week I finally get motivated to go out and do some shooting for a book idea I am working on. Wouldn’t you know it 3 ticks hitching a ride on me back to my place.

I hope they still have the laundry cart at the “Dobb’s Ferry Workshops” location… because if my joints lock up I might need to be carted out of the basement.
At least its not Swine flu, I mean SARS, I mean West Nile, I mean…

Bruce Philpott says:

on June 5, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Lyme disease! Geez… I’m glad you’re on the mend.

I’m looking forward to seeing your presentation in SF July 31st!

Ana says:

on June 5, 2009 at 9:27 pm

I hope you get better soon !
Every time I read about you and some of my other favorite photogs, I have the feeling you are super human, non stop beings who are fully energetic and creative 24/7. And with strong back and legs. And you never have cavities either =)
Take some rest and come back to amaze us with your brilliant work!

Michelle Geoga says:

on June 5, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Thank goodness, Joe, that you got diagnosed. Lyme disease is most dangerous when untreated. I’m so glad you are on the road to recovery. I love your blog, your classes and most of all, seeing your work. Go out and make more images!
PS-Your wife is the real hero of that story!

Jim says:

on June 5, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Ever Thought about a healthy does of Vit B-12..Say 1000 mgs each day. Works wonders for this ole 70 yr bod and it is water soluble so you won’t OD on it.

L.S. Carper says:

on June 5, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Further proof that Annie is the best decision you ever made! Cheers and feel better.


Annemarie Mountz says:

on June 5, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Wow, Joe. Glad you got diagnosed early. Lyme Disease can turn really ugly if left on its own untreated.

Mike Wiacek says:

on June 5, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Get better man! Gotta take time if you need it. :-)

Sean says:

on June 5, 2009 at 10:38 pm


Hope you continue to feel better. Lyme is a difficult disease, far too underdiagnosed and often poorly treated.

PLEASE, as someone working in medicine and personally affected by Lyme, for the sake of learning photographers everywhere, do NOT be that patient who stops taking his meds as soon as you feel better. You NEED to continue the doxy (or whatever else you’ve been prescribed) for at least as long as recommended. If you’d like to read the published literature yourself, send a note and I’ll pass along what I can. The world needs you healthy and out there shooting, vs. bitching about your joints. Getting old isn’t for pussies after all.

Jay Rodriguez says:

on June 5, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Hi Joe,
Sorry to hear about the lyme disease. I had an older relative who suffered a bite but managed to work it out of his system.
be strong, I know you’ll make it 😉

P.S. If you ever need any Bustelo just shoot me an email… I’m a Bustelo drinker too…I drink it all day 😀

Ben Madden says:

on June 5, 2009 at 11:20 pm

So our flashin’ friend old Hot Shoe Joe
Had the Lyme rob his get up and go.
But Joe’s a tought cookie,
So go tell your bookie,
Put 10 bucks on McNally to show.

Sissel says:

on June 6, 2009 at 3:16 am

I hope you are back to your normal self soon. Aren’t you guys glad that wives can be a little pushy when necessary and get you to take care of yourselves. Can’t wait to see what you are up to. Best of health to you!


Dr. Nick says:

on June 6, 2009 at 4:30 am

What is it about Lyme Disease that gets the tinfoil hat and herbal crowd out of the woodwork? Good luck with the doxycycline, should be more than enough to handle it.

Lewis W says:

on June 6, 2009 at 9:51 am

An Irishman with Limey’s Disease. Isn’t that ironic? And I thought you were ignoring us.

Nightmare says:

on June 6, 2009 at 10:24 am

First, Big fan! Second, Great Story, and Third, I have those football knees, and yes bubble wrap is a perfect descriptor. And for some unsolicited advice, regardless of what the Dr’s tell you, NEVER let them take cartilage out of your knee. Not even if it is ripped and floating around, and folding in on itself. Broken cartilage is better then bone on bone contact…..just some advice from someone who made a bad decision once.

Bill Hamilton says:

on June 6, 2009 at 10:28 am

Joe, great writing. Really look forward to your blog!

Robert Theoret says:

on June 6, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Hi Joe,

Just finished reading your blog. I hope you are getting better, and I’m sure you will be back to you’re normal self. But if you don’t, “can I have you’re equipment” JUST KIDDING…

Good to hear you have a lot in the pipe.

All my best wishes to you (for a speedy recovery) and to Annie (for being a patient wife).


How did he do it says:

on June 7, 2009 at 12:19 am

Were those natural light or “available” light? How about a little “how to” with those beautiful pics.

On first glance the rt hand of the organ player seemed to comiming out his behind. Good thing I blew it up and looked closer. So it’s not a Mexican Stage Show after all.

NatureDoc101 says:

on June 7, 2009 at 12:23 am

A lot of folks use the Glucosamine, Chrondroidin, and MSM to help rebuild the knees and joints. I like to add Haluronic Acid, works faster and works on skin and spinal disc too. But don’t forget the Vitamin C and Silica to rebuild the connective tissue, ligaments and the joints.

Tatiana Boyle says:

on June 7, 2009 at 12:30 am

It sucks, the LD. Keep up with the treatment regimen and get well soon, Joe. Warm regards to Annie.

The Far East of Asia has encephalitis, also spread by ticks [Exodus persulcatus]. Working on the boundary between China and Russia, I pulled 76 of those beasts off my clothes and skin after hiking through forest for just 1.5 hours; had to inject myself with gamma globulin (was in my first aid kit).

jakob says:

on June 7, 2009 at 3:28 am

Hello Joe! I love your stories! You`re such a good storyteller, its always a real pleasure, and its each time very funny to read `em! Im still waiting for your new Book, but here in Switzerland its always takes a long time, I just have to check out the bookstores every week to get the very first copy of your hotshoe diaries, im pretty excited and just cant wait any longer!!!

Your work is just awesome and I do follow you wherever you go! Keep up the good stories and photographs! Your`re a huge inspiration for me!
Greetings from switzerland,

p.s sorry for my poor english language :-)

Abhi says:

on June 7, 2009 at 4:40 am

Hi Joe – Get well soon and please take care of your health ! Good Luck with the upcoming assingments! BTW, I just got your book the other day !!

Jim gamblin says:

on June 7, 2009 at 5:50 am


Sorry to hear about you contacting the “dreaded Lyme”. I got it nearly five years and still suffer from it. The antibiotics can be rough, but stay with it and take some kind of flora, to rebuild the good bacteria your intestinal track needs.

Good luck to you Joe, hope you get better soon.


Catalin Onel says:

on June 7, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Hi Joe,

Reading your blog and old joke comes to my mind. It’s said that if you’re at least in your forties and while waking up in the morning no part of you is aching… then you’re probably dead :). It’s really weird how we always find the time for almost anything else except our health (myself included here). Big hugs for you and especially Annie for taking care of the numnuts :)
Have a speedlight recovery !

PS: We’d love to have you in Romania for a workshop !

Mike says:

on June 7, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Hi Joe,

First, although a Canon shooter, loved both your books. They’re an inspiration. Thanks!

Apropos aging and working: if what you say is true, I’m well on the way to becoming a world class photog – my knees and joints ache like crazy as well :-)

But seriously, safecracking (yup, that’s what I do for a living) is REALLY hard on the knees. The stuff you see done vertically on TV and in movies represents only around 10% of what I do. So I can commiserate with your situation.

Stay healthy ’cause I always look forward to reading the next installment of your blog.

– Safecracker

John Barrett says:

on June 7, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Feel better soon Joe!

Nike Kobe IV says:

on June 9, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Sorry to hear about the lyme disease.

Tommy Lynch says:

on June 9, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Hey Joe,

Glad to hear your doing better and nagging everyone at the studio again…..I know all about the legs…..Just finished a 4 day pro golf tournament and when I got home Sunday after a 36 hole marathon to the finish, I could hear that bubble wrap in my legs……a couple asprins, and 3 coors lite and off to bed…..anyhow, good to hear your doing better.


Loren Brown & Dr.Linda Chen says:

on June 9, 2009 at 6:33 pm

The #1 Lyme’s Disease Is Dr. Robert Bradford, San Diego, Ca
Ofc # 1-619-429-8200 Ex 0 talk to Bertha who will connect you to Dr. Bradford.

I am in the hospital writing this as read your blog.

Lyme’s Disease is his SPECIALTY.

Caroline says:

on June 10, 2009 at 11:40 am

I don’t think I’ve met any other photographer’s with Lyme Disease.

I apparently had it for years, kept getting misdiagnosed and bumped from one specialist to another. Finally got treated for it (IV antibiotics – scary!) and am back on my feet.

Sure makes it hard to do the job, though.

Tim Marvin says:

on June 11, 2009 at 10:44 am


First and foremost… Glad your feeling better!

“The magazine was paying me the princely sum of $350 bucks a day to shoot this.”

Really? If Joe’s getting $350 a day what are the poor schlubs in Wichita Kansas supposed to charge??? I gotta know the story behind the day rate!

jakob says:

on June 18, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Joe you`re crazy! I love that new long exposured dancer photo you have at the top of yr blog! Very nice work as usual! Congrats!

Jakob ( switzerland )

Elvi Jasica says:

on December 13, 2009 at 1:41 am

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