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Window Light on a Fast Moving Train

Mar 22

In In The Field at 5:38am

Lots of eyes on Washington this week. Made me remember this picture. Joe Biden, then senator from Delaware. We do so much currently with flash to re-create window light. And there it is, on a cloudy day, just waiting for  tri-x.


I was shooting Biden for People magazine, which really used to do good stories, and do them in B&W. Started as the brain child of Dick Stolley, People has been a juggernaut of magazine publishing for years, though I gather now it faces stiff competition from the likes of US, Them, Now, We, He, She, and It. (Whatever would they all do without little Suri Cruise?)

Anyway, the story used to go around (and it might have been apocryphal for all I know) that readers’ surveys conducted by People always cited the fact that folks enjoyed the stirring color photography which dominated the magazine. Which was odd, ’cause there wasn’t a damn thing in color in the magazine except the ads and the cover. This I’m sure was one of the great coups of magazine publishing–to produce a black and white weekly that somehow at least some of the readers thought was color.

The black and white persona of the magazine was reveled in, right down to the Black and White Ball held every year. Flush with success, the magazine would generously host a bash at the end of every year, and invite even us scruffy freelancers to don a tux and show up. There was a participatory spirit that dominated that era, not the “us vs. them” mentality of now. The magazine realized its’ success depended on the ongoing input and creativity of the band of oddball, goofball (I fell into both categories) shooters out there who contributed every week, and refused, at least for a time, to crush us. The tandem of picture editors up there, Mary Dunn and MC Marden, were the type you would walk through fire for on a handshake.

Things change, as they obviously have for Mr. Biden above, who really has gone onto to greater things. Back then, when I shot this, he was just returning to the Senate after a series of life threatening aneurysms and other medical complications nearly took his life. I met him at the Wilmington station, simple and easy, and just sat down across from him and went to work with a Leica M4, quietly observing his introspective mood about his first days back to work, as the train sped him towards the hill. The soft window light helped the mood. Simple job. Me and a Domke bag, and the future VP.

He’s certainly come up in the world, while I haven’t made much progress, remaining a scruffy freelance content provider. He did me a good turn, actually. I was supposed to be home that night, I mean pretty seriously home, but the lateness of his scheduling precluded that. I had to stick with him, and the story, and spend the night in DC. He called my house and got the voice answering machine and apologized on tape and said it was his fault and if anyone in the McNally household was ever in DC he would buy them lunch at the Senate cafeteria. So far, my daughter Caitlin hasn’t taken him up on that, but knowing Caity, she just might. More tk….

jussi says:

on March 22, 2010 at 5:59 am

I can already imagine the phone call..
“mr dad had to work late because of you back in the.. welll anyways, you wanted to buy me lunch as an apology,right? Dont try to crawl your way out of this, I have it on tape..”

I really enjoy these history peaces. They put “the workshop” posts in to a perspective.

Ken Toney says:

on March 22, 2010 at 6:09 am

Joe, man i’ve been through some Tri-x in the early 70’s when I shot for my high school annual and newspaper. No color in them! I haot my first concert in 71 (Kenny Rogers and the First Edition) and it was even with Tri-x. Great photo of Biden.

keith says:

on March 22, 2010 at 6:11 am

back in my assisting days/daze I used to work with Tony Korody who shot for People magazine most assignments were here in LA

Assignments back then were always interesting & fun and usually in black & white, except for covers.

Howard Haby says:

on March 22, 2010 at 6:14 am

I like reading your posts as much as your photography, and that’s saying a lot.

Ranger 9 says:

on March 22, 2010 at 8:00 am

And when I started reading, I thought this post was going to be about lining the entire Amtrak route with SB-900s (not to mention assistants holding TriGrips on paint poles)… instead, nice reminiscence and quite a nice photo in spite of the lack of “lighting.” (Or perhaps BECAUSE of it…?)

Gregg says:

on March 22, 2010 at 8:15 am

I get the feeling I’ll re-read this in a book someday…
And, I WILL read it.

Jay Mann says:

on March 22, 2010 at 8:31 am

Joe, I ran a few miles of Tri-X through my Pentaxes, back in the day. Darkroom in the basement, spent way too much time listening to Deep Purple Machine Head while inhaling fixer fumes. which might explain a few things…..

Great way to learn this crazy craft.


Tyler Vance says:

on March 22, 2010 at 9:08 am

Trains and Cameras

I had a photographer friend in the ’60’s covering Eisenhower.

He was kneeling by the great man on a train–dropped a lens–which rolled down the aisle.

Eisenhower stopped his conversation, looked at my friend and said, “Thats hard on them isn’t it?”


Girish says:

on March 22, 2010 at 9:08 am

That’s a nice read.

Thanks for explaining how you got into taking the shot. Nice window light :)

“while I haven’t made much progress, remaining a scruffy freelance content provider” – :)

It’s also good to read about the magazine and how things change.

Josh says:

on March 22, 2010 at 9:36 am

Joe, this is one of my favorite posts of yours. I really like the whole “Back in the day…” stuff. Thanks!

Lyndon Smith says:

on March 22, 2010 at 10:13 am

Great shot and story as always Joe. While you are known for your use of color I really like the B&W shots that I’ve seen you post here.

I just loaded up some tri-x in the hasselblad and I’m really looking forward to giving the D-SLR’s a break and shooting a couple of rolls of film again.

Robert says:

on March 22, 2010 at 10:16 am


Great story and picture. I’ve been a pro shooter for 40+ years and learned to love shooting & processing digital. Two words still bring back the nostalgia though : Tri-X and Velvia.


Tim Srigley says:

on March 22, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I think both you Joe’s have made your mark on the world…and it’s been a good one.

Krista says:

on March 22, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Great story.. Great picture! And the line about “you haven’t made much progress…” whatever! You’re only the most talented photographer in the freakin’ world! :)

Brian says:

on March 22, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I have to say that the mark you, the photographer Joe, have made on this world is vastly more positive than the one the subject Joe has made.

You should be proud. Him…not so much.

Ilkka says:

on March 22, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Aah – a normal photograph! One that isn’t lit like it’s from outer space. Thank you for this.

Rock says:

on March 22, 2010 at 11:48 pm

I’m pretty sure Joe has some old shots of Jesus hanging around, just waiting to drop those on us like, “oh yea, I thought you guys would find this interesting.”

Jeez, Joe. You need to change your tittle to “scruffy photographer for people that make the world go in circles.”

joy says:

on March 23, 2010 at 1:46 am

Tri-X for my Pentax and Ilford. But mostly Kodachrome. And then decades without a camera (can you imagine?!).

I’m newly back to it — uncovering digital and finding that my eye is still good.

So, a newbie question: Could the above shot be taken digitally without flash by pushing the ASA — I mean ISO? 😉 Why or why not?

Joe, your blog is an inspiration as well as entertaining. Thank you. (I thought I was the only one who remembers “TK.”)

Dr. Nick says:

on March 25, 2010 at 4:23 am

You both are big f’ing deals!

isle of man mansions says:

on March 27, 2010 at 5:51 am

This is the best photo of Biden I have seen. It is pretty profound.

GlenF says:

on March 28, 2010 at 10:27 pm

It amazes me to hear of the small kindnesses busy and powerful people do and how strong an impact they have as they are remembered. Humanity really is a force.

mik says:

on May 6, 2010 at 9:47 am

hehe, this reminds me of my own image here, same style but different situation
greetings michael

Senaida Cilek says:

on June 20, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Hello,this is Senaida Cilek,just discovered your Post on google and i must say this blog is great.may I quote some of the article found in the blog to my local mates?i am not sure and what you think?in either case,Many thanks!

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