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Nigel and Me, Still…..

Sep 10

In Thoughts at 6:11pm


Up early today. Nigel’s gained some weight lately, and when he nestled himself on the bed last night he proceeded to snore so loudly I coulda sworn somebody was trying to start a large diesel engine right there on the blanket. It’s okay, though. He’s my bud. He’s a bit paunchy (Annie gets defensive and simply says he’s “big boned”) and a little tentative, ’cause I think he’s got some arthritis in his forelegs.  I bought him some steps I’ve put around the house so he can get up on stuff easier. He won’t use ’em, though, being male and proud. He still jumps, even though it’s gottta hurt. That’s the deal with guys. We look at something and think, I can still do that, and then our body tells us different.

Same thing here. In addition to being up early, I’m grumpy ’cause I’m fasting. Annie worked out a week for me while I am home to kinda kick the tires and change the oil, so the whole week is doc’s appointments. Feeling like I’m spending a great deal of time flat on my back on an examining table, looking upwards through a 16mm full frame fisheye at a bunch of googly eyed, well meaning folks who look me over, ask some mildly embarrassing questions, purse their lips and frown a bit, then make notes on a clipboard. (I chuckle inwardly. In this ten minute examination these folks actually think they’re gonna find out what’s wrong with me? Heh, heh, heh.)

(My buddy Bill at Geographic is having a field day with this. He mentioned today that all the questions are designed to create a baseline before they harvest the organs.)

What can I say to these rational, logical, disapproving folks? That I know I shouldn’t have done half the shit I’ve done? That I know it wasn’t great for me to breathe carbon dioxide gas for a week at one of the world’s largest nickel mines in Siberia? I know it’s not a good idea to get kicked and punched, shot at and tear gassed? I’ve had stitches and surgeries, been baked in the desert and frozen in the arctic and arrested at gunpoint. I’ve climbed around towers loaded with microwaves. I’ve smiled my way through meals in faraway places that I knew were gonna ricochet through my system like a pinball in an arcade game. I’ve drunk stuff of indeterminate origin that I knew had microbes that were gonna chew their way through my inside wiring like gremlins on holiday. I’ve worked around disease and radioactivity, picked my way through mass graves, blacked out at 9.2 g’s and hung off of and outside of clanky, rusted flying machines that had no business staying in the air, but somehow, with some spit and glue, did. I’ve parked myself for hours covering concerts in front of walls of woofers with enough decibel horsepower to flatten a city block, never mind a flimsy pair of eardrums. I’ve done the macho, bonding ritual of hoisting flagons of native brew that would make straight sterno look like a fruit smoothie.

And done much of it carrying anywhere from 20 to 60 pounds of gear, sometimes much more. So my knees sound like somebody’s opening the front door of an abandoned house in a horror movie, and my spine is about as straight as the Pacific Coast Highway. And my mind? Let’s not go there.

So what do I say to these well meaning, helpful medical folks? How do I explain that 30 plus years ago I threw myself into the mosh pit of a shooting career because I had no choice? That, just like any photog, I did ridiculous, ill-advised stuff just cause I wanted the picture so badly? And that there are a bunch more of us out here, camera in hand, just as nutty? (Hell, I’ve got colleagues who have done such wacked stuff it it makes me look like a frikkin’ librarian.)

How to tell them that I’m up for more? That my best pictures are still out there ahead of me? They may be right around the corner, in plain sight, or still years away, hidden inside some project or notion that ain’t even in my head yet. I might need to fly or climb to get them, or run after them, or limp, as the case may be.

But, just like Nigel, I won’t use the steps…..more tk.

Trenton Moore says:

on September 10, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Medical (and mental health) community: you have now officially and fairly been warned of the side-effects possible when you take on photographers as patients. :)

Joel Bischoff says:

on September 10, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Great insight as always Joe.

joe tutlo says:

on September 10, 2009 at 6:40 pm

best of luck with everything joe.

John A. says:

on September 10, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Well stated! :) Those scars, abused organs, broken bones and gelled brains make us who we are. Surely the medical community doesn’t want to change that.

If it makes you feel any better, I know there are a LOT of folks who appreciate what have done to become who you are. I think some of us may even be envious.

Hope you get a clean bill of health!! Even if Nigel doesn’t want to use those steps, he knows you mean well.

mike bernardo says:

on September 10, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Thank God you did! If it weren’t for your crazy, gung-ho-throw caution to the wind shooting the world would never have seen the images you have made.

Ray K says:

on September 10, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Moderation is for monks! At least when you can’t do it anymore you got those memories to watch in your head. Who wants to get old and say “I wish I had….”.

Will Foster says:

on September 10, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Is all this because I overloaded the c-stand bags? I admit I had to drag them around the studio!

Virginia Bonesteel says:

on September 10, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I love reading your blog. Add a picture of an old cat (and I don’t mean you) and I am hooked for life.

Thanks for the inspiration, as a teacher and as a human being doing what he loves. For a few minutes, at least, this old broad believes that she has years of photography adventures ahead.


tom aellis says:

on September 10, 2009 at 7:54 pm

But Joe, you have LIVED! How many can say that?
If by some chance I had a angel come down (or, more in my case, up) and told me that I had one more day to live I would of course be sad. However within a new york moment I would turn around, crack a smile and state, with all complete and steady tone, “Wow, that was amazing”
You can do that. This can never be taken away from you. When the pain from the war wound knocks, please remember that. You Lived.

Anyway, it’s the girls that’ll kill ya.

Jeremy says:

on September 10, 2009 at 7:55 pm

As the song says, “Any day above ground is a good day”. (Or as I like to think, “Everything in moderation. Including moderation.”

Craig Ferguson (@cfimages) says:

on September 10, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Here’s to more ill-advised stuff in order to get the picture. :)

Laura says:

on September 10, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Hi, I just wanted to mention that Cosequin is often good for cats with arthritis, you may want to ask your vet about it. :)

Tom Peterson says:

on September 10, 2009 at 8:40 pm

A couple of friends and I were talking the other day about how it’s a miracle any of us to adulthood, let alone through it. Some “live” safe lifes. To them I say “sorry you missed the ride”.

Good luck with the medical tests. If the brain scan shows nothing, it’ll be about par for the course. It’s none of our business, but let us know you’re alright. At least as “alright” as you can be, being you.

Alton Marsh says:

on September 10, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Can’t see anything in your past that should cause a problem. Let’s lift a glass of wood alchohol to that.

Iden Ford says:

on September 10, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Love the photo of your cat. I hate going to the doctor so I can empathize.
Keith Richards used to say “It’s good to be here, it’s good to be anywhere”.
He got that right.

Simon says:

on September 10, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Unless you were one of the few to be born with an enlarged luck gland, hard work, determination and a fairly bullet proof sense of humour are often the precursors to great results & respect. You are the epitome of all of these things Joe – thanks once again for your insights and inspiration.

Richard Haber says:

on September 10, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Well put!

Every day that I get up to the aches and pains of a very long time being me, I smile and remember (most of) the good things that I was doing when that joint went out or that scar was aquired or that muscle last cramped.

It’s a great life, living, and I hope it goes on aching for both of us for a long time tk.

RogerD says:

on September 10, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Love your stuff, Joe. I hear Tom Hanks saying, “I’m not a bright man” every time I go to one of your seminars. Guess since I’m there, it makes a statement on my judgment, too. I have the misfortune of having a daughter in med school who tells me every time she come home what I’m doing wrong. Just like her mother. 😉
To hell with not using the steps – push them out of the way!

Frank says:

on September 10, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Joe, well spoken. And that comes from an M.D. who’s body is not a bit better than yours.

Ray says:

on September 11, 2009 at 12:11 am

Fab. Reminds me that the point isn’t surviving, but living.

Bill Bogle Jr. says:

on September 11, 2009 at 12:12 am


Just hope it wasn’t Jack Elam from the Cannonball Run who did the prostate exam. Or Marty Feldman as Dr. Fronkenstein’s assistant in Young Frankenstein (remember Abby, Abby Normal for the brain for the monster?).

Keep fighting.

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Michelle Knight says:

on September 11, 2009 at 1:33 am

Well, it was ’cause my blood pressure was in the Hypertensive 1 category that I had to take to the gym, but it is lonely three mornings a week on the treadmill so if Nigel fancies it, I could do with a motivation partner on those stationary miles.

And I didn’t need a GP to tell me either; I worked it out on my lonesome. However, being a trained first aider helped :-) The good side is that with the exercise I’ll gain x years of life; the downside is that I’ll be spending x+y years at the gym. Hmmm…

Adam says:

on September 11, 2009 at 3:01 am

Best blog post EVER!

You can’t break McNally !

About best photo I know where is it. It’s just in front of you, as men whe chase for something but then we realize that special someone / something is in front of us.

Spend some time with your family in your home and you will get your FRAME (sounds like fame)!

Sara Churchill says:

on September 11, 2009 at 5:15 am


You have always grabbed life by the *you know whats* Joe.


Brian says:

on September 11, 2009 at 7:24 am


Through my years as an MD I can say now more than ever passion will always trump common sense 😉 and I think that is a good thing! I wouldn’t think twice about doing what you’ve done… I’ve done similar things myself without any regret.

As we age we do have to ‘pay our dues’ though… ‘just make it quick so I can pull my pants back up’ right?

Fred K says:

on September 11, 2009 at 7:38 am

Great stuff but don’t worry a bankrupt government will be providing you with healthcare shortly!!

Frank Burch says:

on September 11, 2009 at 9:54 am

Another great read Joe! You have a great talent for expressing what so many of us Boomers are feeling!

caroline says:

on September 11, 2009 at 9:55 am

Man, what does it say about me that I read through that and think “Wow, cool!”

Jamie Walker says:

on September 11, 2009 at 9:55 am

Joe we must be related…!


Charlie Flynn says:

on September 11, 2009 at 10:15 am

I just recovered from 12 weeks sitting knitting a cracked femur that was collateral damage during a right total hip replacement. Your blog, and your two book I just bought cheered me through the whole ordeal. Hip is fine and I can’t wait to get the cobwebs off of my D3. It doesn’t hurt when you have the picture in sight. Loose weight, drink red wine, and keep shooting. Let us know if you need more prayers.

Tyler Vance says:

on September 11, 2009 at 10:33 am

Hey Joe;

Hang in there.

But now you have me worried.

I want to see guys like you and Nachtwey at future workshops.

“Into harms way….”

randy baran says:

on September 11, 2009 at 10:53 am

good words, joe. soon, maybe we will all have body transplants. glad to hear your quest for the image burns on, all the brighter.

thank you to the lady who mentioned cosequin. is it good for people, too?!

Cindy Farr-Weinfeld says:

on September 11, 2009 at 11:03 am

Great post and great insight, as always, Joe. I had no idea about some of those crazy things you’ve done, but as many have said here, you truly have lived and seen so many things that most of us won’t ever see (or take pictures of!) I’m glad you did all those things (except for the getting hurt parts) because we all get to enjoy your incredible body of work, and I agree with you when you say that your best work is still to come! Keep at it and don’t let the medicos get your down, friend! Cindy

jorgen says:

on September 11, 2009 at 11:11 am

Best of luck! Your way of life has generated photos that makes you a legend!

Kammie says:

on September 11, 2009 at 11:36 am

That was awesome! Thanks for that! Hope all is well with you.

Ethan says:

on September 11, 2009 at 11:52 am

Wonderful blog.
Not just this one but in general.
Your humor and depth are fun and interesting to read.
Thanx a lot for sharing your thoughts & experiences.

Jason says:

on September 11, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Life is in the living, life is the what happens to us. Enjoy the ride, make the images and keep clickin’ the shutter Joe. Thanks for the inspiration!

martin says:

on September 11, 2009 at 12:28 pm

It’s not what you tell them…it’s what you tell yourself that matters at this moment.
Will you have the guts to visualize yourself changed?
Many great artists had to make compromises with age. Are you up to it, or is it just fodder for another funny line…

Malinda Hartong says:

on September 11, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Bet you didnt know there’s glucosamine paste for cats!
stick that in google! My senior dog is a new pup thanks to the stuff we put on her food – yes it’s all legal! I think. speaking of cats, she even chased one full out the other nite. Too senior to catch anything but I bet she had a blast anyway.
Well, back to keeping our eyes open for those elusive & awesome images. Cheers!

Malinda Hartong says:

on September 11, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Oh, and to the guy who is so dedicated to chasing all those NYC firefighters & cops – hugs to you and all of them on the anniversary of 9/11.

Wes says:

on September 11, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Thanks for the inspiration, as always. And thanks for not getting old on us Joe. We still need you.

Bob DeChiara says:

on September 11, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Remember the scene from Fletch, in the Dr’s office? “Using the whole fist Doc.”


jakob says:

on September 11, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Your photography has inspired hundreds even thousands of young people, thanks for that Joe, in many many ways! And thanks for your open mind! Hope you`re doin`fine!!!

Mark says:

on September 11, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Great writing, great remembrances. I often wonder how many years I’m taking off my life by being stuck in front of a computer screen for the better part of my days…. *sigh*

Fadi Kelada says:

on September 11, 2009 at 4:46 pm

I still remember my first photography workshop with Joe like it was yesterday, is was April 1 this year in Dubai when our group went out on location with Joe and spent a great afternoon photographing hip hop and ballet dancers. Observing Joe at work to me was a priceless experience and I could not help not to see a bottle of Advil sitting beside him while he was taking that group photo of young hip hop dancers published on his blog later on.
Being 29 and having arthritis is a downer but photography makes me forget all about the pain while kneeling on the concrete floor to get that good angle but most importantly Joe’s way in dealing with pain is a true source of inspiration and power to continue what I love to do as on that same day when I fractured my ankle while stepping down from the bus that took us back from the location I saw another side of Joe who quickly poured some water on his hands and rubbed my ears to wake me up as I fainted for a moment and he stayed with me until the ambulance came and took me. He was caring and did what he could to ease the pain I felt that moment. I was extremely embarrassed but at the same time very high spirited because I went on location for a day with Joe McNally.
At one moment I thought this is it, I can’t continue the workshop and despite the doctor’s order to stay in bed for a week the next morning I found myself leaving home early without my gear except for the camera hanging on my neck. My foot was in a cast I was walking on crutches and took a taxi to Joe’s workshop which was in another city from where I live. I was sweating buckets for every few meters I walk but I made it to the workshop that day.
Truth must be said that if it was not for Joe’s words and his spirit I would not even consider leaving home the following day.
Joe did not just taught me photography but also perseverance and to face bad luck and bad bones with a smile and a camera in hand.
God bless you Joe.

Joe McNally says:

on September 11, 2009 at 4:51 pm

As I remember, Chevy Chase immediately started singing, “Moon River…”

Barbara N. Molyneaux says:

on September 11, 2009 at 4:54 pm

I can see the headlines now—- Centenarian Joe McNally dangled his wheel chair out a five story window to get a shot of a rare bald eagle nesting on the eaves of…..

Jay Abramson says:

on September 11, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Hi Joe, best of luck on the medical front! Everyone here has talked of your photography, and I won’t disagree….AWESOME!

As to Nigel, the obvious question is; “Have you asked his veterinarian about medications to relieve his symptoms?”

I have a senior dog on arthritis meds, and she bounces around like a puppy! No guarantees for Nigel, but if you don’t ask, you won’t know.

Best regards to you, Annie and, of course, Nigel.

Allan says:

on September 11, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Thanks for the blog and sharing your knowledge — I’m a great fan. This post reminds me of the Seuss Book, “You’re Only Old Once: A Book for Obsolete Children.” Your week sounds like a perfect parallel.

Lyndon Smith says:

on September 11, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Thanks for sharing both your techniques and the stories behind the shots. You are inspiring and educating photographers around the globe.

I believe your best shots are indeed still to come. Keep rockin’ dude!

Will Foster says:

on September 11, 2009 at 6:51 pm

“Thank you doc… you ever serve time?”

Mike says:

on September 11, 2009 at 10:17 pm

Anything for the shot, right Joe?………yeah, right, I know it’s the truth!! Keep up the great work, buddy! I need the inspiration!!

Blackey Cole says:

on September 12, 2009 at 3:47 am

Joe, You know why they call it practicing medicine? Because they do not have all the answers and are just guessing. But, if you stick with them long enough they might be able to help you. I started having back trouble in 1983 I think it was. In 1991 I=My leg started going numb and burning when I stood for a period of time. Finally this past summer after two lower back Surgeries. I had a third procedure, to have a neurostimulator put in to block the pain signals at the spine. I have felt better since then than in the past decade or so except as soon as it was in I came down with diabetes. Get one thing fix something else goes. All we can do is keep pushing forward until we are called togo.

Ben says:

on September 12, 2009 at 9:02 am

I believe the proper term for Nigel is he has a little bit more fluff. I think all of us have some fluffiness to some extent, Joe you’re fluffy, I have some fluff to, it just so happens just 13% is fluff. As for all your adventures, well you know they make bionic knees, and hips, not sure about bionic backs but if your knees and hips were better maybe your back would straiten itself out. I am sure they could clone some baboon bones and ligaments, to put in your body. My rule is if you can break it you can fix it. Being in the HVAC trade we have a saying ” do your best and tape the rest” Rub some dirt on it and tape it up and get back to work!

Rick says:

on September 12, 2009 at 11:25 am

Nothing a cold beer and good friend can’t fix!

T-BONE says:

on September 12, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Great post. You are as good a writer as you are a photographer. And I mean that in a good way.

Lewis W says:

on September 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Nigel may have big bones, but he has big meat on dem bones, too.

Byron Prinzmetal says:

on September 12, 2009 at 5:42 pm

You could always retire and sit in a rocking chair or have some fun knowing you will surely bust something now and then (and pay the price of six or more weeks of getting bored waiting to heal).

I guess you did not choose the rocking chair.


Patrik says:

on September 12, 2009 at 7:49 pm

I think it´s great to see what you have accomplished photo-wise, you are a great photographer, no doubt about that. I´ve learned alot and got so much inspiration just by looking at your pictures, and of course to top that of with your instructionalvideos over att kelbytraining.
But aside all that, you really know how to entertain aswell, and now i just dont mean in your instructionalvideos, but also here in your blog.
You often put the nail in the coffin so to speak in your writings here, it is very nice that you share with us all of your knowledge and all the other “stuff” that comes along with it during your years in practice.
Keep it up like that, thank you! :)

Marvin Pido says:

on September 13, 2009 at 6:25 am

What an article, Joe. Love it. You and your pictures (and now, this article) inspire me to be a photog. Keep it up.

Pavel Sinagl says:

on September 13, 2009 at 7:51 am

Joe, best wishes to Nigel and You! I love reading your blog, it is always inspiring.

Sam Fifer says:

on September 13, 2009 at 9:15 am

Anyone that is a cat lover is OK in my book! Here is a pic of my bud, Hobbes….

As always, I look forward to your posts and you continue to be an inspiration.

Jim Wilson says:

on September 13, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Dear Joe,

I couldn’t have described the last 30 years better! What we do in the pursuit!! Feel better and trade in that sound of a snapping latex glove for the familiar click of a shutter as soon as possible.


Dario Dusio says:

on September 14, 2009 at 8:30 am

It’s called “we will stop shooting only when we will be dead” and it’s a real addiction :)

Anyway take care, just remember sometimes you need to stop&relax because you can’t afford to be stopped for long times!!

ed linn says:

on September 14, 2009 at 10:34 am

Hey Joe,
great post. best to you and Nigel both.
hang in there boys – DON’T TAKE THE STEPS, KEEP JUMPING!!

Richard Cave says:

on September 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Nigel is still a looker, you know when you are getting old, in my yoof I can handhold at 1/30 nowadays its more 1/250. Whilst working in a disused photolab I went misty eyed when I smelt the sweet tones of blix… the youngsters around me thought I was a glue sniffer. They just dont understand… Anyways Joe I am typing this slow for you as I know you dont read so fast now,


Shirley Robb says:

on September 16, 2009 at 7:44 pm

But you’re all good….right?

Nigel says:

on September 21, 2009 at 2:49 am

I guess you could have stayed at home and done nothing. You wouldn’t live any longer, but it sure would feel like it.

Keep up the good work Joe, and look after Nigel!!


Elaine Nawiesnaik says:

on September 25, 2009 at 6:01 am

Yeah, but you’ve lived, Joe, you’ve lived! You’ve crammed more experiences into your life than the average person could ever dream of and isn’t that amazing? When you are too old to do this anymore you will have not a single regret, no matter how your old bones protest!

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