Hope everyone is having a great bunch of holidays. We had a houseful of people Christmas Day. 20 folks, all hungry. Annie did an amazing meal, and I didn’t blow the barbecue end of the deal, thankfully. That was ’cause my sister Rosemary ran the grill basically, and I just did what she told me to do. (Thus proving that a knuckle dragger like me can listen even when standing at the grill, where usually the sheer raging din of testosterone drowns out all rational thought and conversation and all that is heard is a series of hoots, clicks and grunts.)
We had lots and lots of family over, including my niece Michelle, fairly recently married to her husband, Mark. When she was born in ’75, she was a first in many ways. First for my sister Kathy, first new baby in the McNally clan for a long time, and for me, my first baby photo subject. (My kids came later.) On vacations, summers, visits, her nutty Uncle Joe always had a camera in his hands. She was young enough to think it was fun, and thus tolerated me. And over her early years, I built up enough imagery of Michelle’s moods and mysteries that for my ’78 Christmas gifts, I printed a calendar of 1979 according to Michelle.
It’s showing wear and tear now, yellowed with age, but the prints have stood the test of time really well. Which is a good thing, ’cause the negs on all these pix have vanished. This was not a one click, send it to Apple deal back then. Made the prints in the Daily News lab, where I was a studio apprentice, a way station on the path to being a shooter at a union shop like The News. As a boy in the studio (you weren’t classified as a man in newspaper parlance until you were on the street as a shooter) I used newspaper printing paper and chemistry, which was a pretty good perk of being back there in the fumes, and then dry mounted the prints on boards. (Obviously not archival board, if you look above.) Then I did Kodaliths of calendar sheets, and printed those. Made 6 calendars, so there were a lot of long nights in the lab after work. It was cool, though, ’cause I was back printing again, something I had always enjoyed at school. The B&W negs were all run through a Versamat machine, state of the art dry to dry processing at the time. I viewed those monsters as high powered mulching machines that you dumped your roll into one and end of and said novenas till it came out the other.
So in January, Michelle proved her mettle as Nikon shooter, F2 in hand.
But, come February, she proved to be more thoughtful, pensive, even. I guess I would be too, if I were wearing a hat like that:-)
By Easter things were definitely more lighthearted. Shot this, believe it or not, with a 500mm mirror lens. Nikon made a couple catadioptric lenses, which were short, stubby, incredibly difficult to focus accurately, and, in the case of the 500, a fixed f8. Needless to say, they don’t make these anymore. God knows why I was shooting that lens for this, but it did make the Daily News centerfold for Easter Sunday, 1978.
Then came summer, and my favorite shot of her, hair so blond it disappeared in the sun.
By September she had once again grown pensive, even a tad mysterious. It might have been that milk mustache disguise.
Outdoors for October. Is there a photographer in the world who has not thrown leaves in the air to get a fall picture of a kid?
Then of course, there were turkey insides to investigate for November.
And at the end of the year, Santa’s visit.
Turns out these were just the beginning of Michelle’s adventures in front of the camera. She grew up so tall and beautiful she took a hiatus from college at one point to make a tour of the NY fashion agencies. Did some work in the Big Apple, and then made the model’s traditional winter trek south to Miami Beach. Down there on the sand, 12′ silks and frames on highboys bloom everywhere as the swimsuit and summer wear catalogs are shot while most of us freeze our butts off up north. It so happened that I had a big job to shoot for Nikon, and I had some budget, and an open ticket to shoot anywhere I wanted. We headed for Miami. It was around the introduction of the SB26 and the new fangled device of a built in sensor panel that would enable it to trigger off other flashes. This was big news at that time. So, I shot this….
But I also got Michelle in front of the lens. I had no particular yen to shoot in Miami, but I thought I could throw Michelle some work, and at the same time let her mom know about how things were going. Michelle could always handle herself, but she was a like a sweet, easy going guppy who just jumped into the shark pool of the Miami fashion scene, and her booker wasn’t sending her out all that often for work. So I played the role of the NY asshole fashion photog with a budget and made calls to her agent, jumped up and down and threw a hissy fit about why wasn’t I seeing the portfolio of this fabulous girl I have heard about? I might have even used a French accent, I can’t remember.
While shooting this, I kept saying ridiculous stuff at camera, like, “That’s good sweetie, yeah, that’s really pretty!” My assistants were chuckling, shaking their heads and looking at me like I just fell off the turnip truck. “Dude, she’s not sweet, she’s hot!” “Yeah, well, I’m her uncle, so don’t even think about it!” It was a long way from playing in the leaves.
She’s married now, and of course I showed up with a D3 to make a few snaps. She spent some time with Cassie, the family pooch in the midst of pre-wedding craziness.
And indulged me in post wedding, “What just happened?” silliness at the reception room bar.
I consider myself very lucky to have a beautiful niece who smiled at a photog relative all these years. She allowed me to write a little piece of our family history with a lens and a camera. As I look at that calendar now, Christmas 2009, I realize I remember precisely nothing of Christmas 1978. Virtually everything about that day and that calendar, for instance, is gone. Michelle’s all grown up, the F2 is a museum piece, and film has been replaced. (Who could have imagined?)
What remains? The pictures. And, now that she’s married, maybe, someday in the future, there might be another little blond photo subject. And, with any luck, I’ll be there, with a camera. More tk….