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Driving To Slovenia….

Apr 20

In history, Thoughts at 2:46am


Working in Europe, under a giant umbrella of volcanic ash. No fly time now. Just as well. I’d rather drive just about anywhere than fly. Except home, of course. Gotta fly home, and pretty soon, so hoping for a wind shift, or maybe one of those movie special effects deals where all of sudden the volcano goes into reverse gear and sucks back down what it just threw up.

Working with Nikon Europe and a bunch of Annie’s extraordinary colleagues over here. What started small in Copenhagen 4 years ago has become a barnstorming tour, with stops in a various cities across Europe, particularly, this year, in Germany. Yasuo Baba, the manager of NPS Germany, and a complete, total force of nature,  has put together a terrific itinerary that has us in Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, as well as 6 stops in Germany. Somehow, through his efforts, every place we show up, there’s ballerinas and body builders.

Just crossed into Austria. Gonna be a while before we hit Ljubljana. Darkness closing in. Domen and Rene up front sharing the driving. Young guys, they are, somewhat oddly, into 80’s music. Dire Straits through the speakers. Annie eating gummi bears.

People across the board have been wonderful at the various stops. Meeting photogs from the commercial world, newspaper guys, wedding shooters, you name it. Playing with light and shooting stuff. Talking gear, the language we all understand.

Years ago, my first foray out of the US sent me to England. I was a student, and my photography professor, Fred Demarest, urged me to come over and mix chemistry for the Syracuse London photo program. I got 9 free graduate credits, and 5 pounds a week.

I jumped on it. Got myself a cold water flat with a shower down the hall in Parsons Green, south of the Thames, for six pounds fifty a week. Ran the lab, shot stuff at Speakers’ Corner, looked at lots of pictures. Went to the London Royal Photographic Society, where they had a show of Gene Smith’s work. Went back six or seven times.

Ate at the original, and at that time, the only, Hard Rock Café. Played basketball for a semi-pro team called London Amber. Had a blast. Starting five was a crazy Ozzie, me, and some terrific English blokes, one of whom was a chauffeur during the day. For a road trip, he could stuff the whole team into his massive limo. Played some pretty basic gyms, lacking, uh, amenities. Jesus, that car stank after a game.

Went to sea. Wandered up to Lowestoft, the eastmost tip of England, and signed onto to a fishing trawler named the Boston Shackleton for a two week stint in the North Sea. In November. On board, they called me “Hank the Yank” and made fun of the fact I had to hang on to stand up. Couple of them piped down a bit after I climbed the mast, which most of the crew wouldn’t do. Fun up there, a seaborne roller coaster, complete with salt spray.

Nighttime on the the Dogger, as some fishermen liked to call the North Sea, is particularly, deeply black. The wheelhouse was like a cocoon. Outside the sea circled the boat like a powerful snake, waves coiling and uncoiling. Wind sharp as a thrown knife. Inside, the glow of instruments, and the smell of strong tea.

Thirty five years and nearly 60 countries later, still at sea. Still love staring at darkness, slipping by. Still love the uncertainty of photography. Still love the fact that it kicks my ass. Nowadays, love knowing that all those millions of pixels, hot wired for color and speed, are still blind without the eye of a shooter pointing them the right way. Still love that my imagination precludes the possibility that I will ever grow up.

Still love the passport stamps, and the fact that each one means a connection made, a culture observed. Lessons learned. People met. Bridges, however temporary and fragile, made. Never get tired of the sound of a shutter. Never tire of nights like these, especially now that I share them with Annie. Here in the dark, asleep now, listening to her breathe.

Ljubljana still couple hours away. It’s okay. They can drive slower if they want. More tk….

Gordon says:

on April 20, 2010 at 2:52 am

joe, you really do have a great way with words. These posts just ring so true in my head. You are my go to philosopher!

Marco Iraola says:

on April 20, 2010 at 2:56 am

Joe ur a beast!

Stuart Mackenzie says:

on April 20, 2010 at 2:58 am

Viz: Dogger. In marine terms Dogger is an area of sea referred to in the UK shipping forecast, largely centered around Dogger bank, a dirty great sandbank in the middle of the North sea which rises in places to only 15M under the surface. So it is possible they were referring to this, rather than the North sea as a whole. ( you can see Dogger about half way up on the east coast…

Anyway, I’m sure the Uk has ballerinas and bodybuilders too 😀

Ivan says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:03 am

Hey, will you stay somewhere in Austria, or are you just passing through?

Donal Cunningham says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:03 am

Went to Ljubljana with my then girlfriend, now wife in 1998. If the Gostilna Pri Mraku is still open, they do a nice venison steak (her: Good god, you’re eating Bambi!). Oh, and the caves in Postojna are awesome, assuming you get any free time whatsoever.

Good thing Annie’s with you – can’t imagine what it’s like to be separated from your loved ones by A FRICKING VOLCANO. Hope she’s enjoying the trip too.

The ferries are running to Ireland, too. Just sayin’.


Matej Stefanac says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:09 am

Where exactly in Slovenia are you heading to?
greetings from Ljubljana!

Frank Burch says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:10 am

At the Paso Robles workshop you told a really funny story where the punch line was when a guy said, “Livin’ the dream man, livin’ the dream”. But I swear Joe, you are “Livin’ the dream”!

Martin O'Neill says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:10 am

Wonderfully evocative Blog Mr McNally !!
Hope you get home (eventually!)

Joe McNally says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:14 am

Hey Stuart, have heard of references to the Dogger Bank. The fellas on the boat just seemed to refer to “the whole bloody thing” as The Dogger. Crew of 7 aboard a 90′ sidewinder trawler. Good bunch. Gave this landlubber a good deal of good natured grief:-) Joe

luka says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:14 am

safe driving joe! Just cant wait to meet u 2day in ljubljana!

Dave Ewers says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:24 am

Joe, you have to be one of the luckiest guys alive. LOve your work, love life. Be well.

Jesper Skærbæk Jensen says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:26 am

Joe, it’s great that you do these tours around Europe :-) I still recall your visit in Denmark in 2008, at the Nikon Speed of Light, it was a fine fine day :-) Any chance to see you in the Nordics again ?

Jon danielsen says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:35 am

Hey joe,

since youre in europe – any plans on beeing in Norway for the near future? (we have cookies..)

David Kelly says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:36 am

Joe, love the posting – very evocative words as Martin has said. You’ve got a nack for conjuring up great imagery with words as well as your photographic gear 😉
Would love to see you over here in old Blighty again soon. Hopefully the volcanic cloud will clear soon, but I’ve heard this morning that another spewing of volcanic ash has begun. Spain seems to be the best bet currently if you want to get a flight back home – their airspace is pretty clear I believe.
Have fun.

Matthias says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:38 am

Haribo ‘gummi bears’ that’s what I some how miss.
Enjoy your trip in Europe and especially in good cold Germany 😉
Regards from sunny Taiwan

Valdez says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:39 am

I am so going to print that last paragraph. That’s the way of the photog allright! Here’s to more bridges Joe. Keep on truckin’

Dušan Smolnikar says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:47 am

We’re waiting for you in Ljubljana :)

Matic Kos says:

on April 20, 2010 at 4:07 am

Yeey, Joe! Can’t wait for you to arrive. :)
The weather is sunny atm and that dust cloud might provide some diffusion 😉

Theis Poulsen says:

on April 20, 2010 at 4:11 am

Nice with a road trip :)

As usual great wrinting, cant wait for the next book :)

Remember the times you have been in Denmark, I am pretty sure we can find a ballerina or a bodybuilder if that is what it takes to get you back here :)


Mihai says:

on April 20, 2010 at 4:34 am

By any chances, will you be traveling to Romania, Joe?!
Would be a real thriller if you would / could! :)

Richard Hales says:

on April 20, 2010 at 4:45 am

Good luck with the trip, weather forecast indicating that the wind direction will change at the weekend to a south westerly so flow of ash should slow down.
A|so, Scott Kelby let slip you are on the way to the UK some time soon, any ideas of when and where?

chris says:

on April 20, 2010 at 4:49 am

when are you coming to London?.. PLease!!

Dusan says:

on April 20, 2010 at 5:00 am

Welcome to Ljubljana!

Can’t wait for your presentation today…

Claus Jepsen says:

on April 20, 2010 at 5:16 am

Looking forward to have you back in Copenhagen again soon .. maybe for a Nikon NPS part 2?

Richard Cave says:

on April 20, 2010 at 5:34 am

Hey Joe, if you want to shoot a few hoops and knock back a few beers or a OJ in my case, Englands a short distance away. I am sure there are a few togs here that would make you feel welcome.


frank johannes says:

on April 20, 2010 at 5:58 am

thank you Joe for being in Berlin.
You workshop was such an insparation for me.


Mike Rawcliffe says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:01 am

i saw the Gene Smith exhibition too, travelled up from the north of England and back in a day just for the exhibition. That, and Sebastiao Salgado’s Workers show are the best I have ever seen.
My dad sailed out of Lowstoft on a mine-sweeper during WW2. The boats were converted trawlers – wooden so as not to attract magnetic mines.

My wife and I love Austria and go there almost every year.

She’s not called Annie, though.

Best wishes, good light (but you always have good light don’t you? You make your own),


Frank says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:12 am

Joe, you need to write another book soon. I’m enjoying the narratives just as much as the pictures.

You ever coming to Australia or are we just too far away ? :(

Takki says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:14 am

Thanks for the workshop in FRA! I really got motivated to try out the creative lighting system – Thanks for sharing and all the best to you and Annie

Verino Popovic says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:17 am

Until today I didn’t know that you’ll come to Slovenia. Now it’s too late.
I’m so sad right now… . :(

Sean McCormack says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:17 am

For short prose, this sure read like poetry.

Thanks Joe.

PS see Donal’s comment above about ferries to Ireland.

Ban_D says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:19 am

Great post, just loved to read – especially the last section, thats why it’s really good to travel!

Mark Holloway says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:24 am

Very nice. Love the McBlog.

Daniel says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:48 am

Slovenia, what about Croatia??? wow, Mcnally to be so close…yikes…if only I had known before.

Daniel says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:51 am

…you could at least stop for a holiday on Croatian coast, visit the city of Split, 1700 yrs old city. Maybe shoot a ballerina or two there. Sorry for spamming…it’s just that you were never this close.

ingomar says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:53 am

kind of sad that I could not make it to eisbach studios. finally found out where you are going to be in munich, but could not get any further information about the nps show. you are crossing my country right know (or yesterday) this is fun! enjoy it, enjoy vienna and the peeps there!
greetings from munich
PS: isn’t annie much better than drew as a travelling partner? :-)

Ranger 9 says:

on April 20, 2010 at 6:58 am

Ballerinas ARE bodybuilders… they just build themselves in a way that isn’t so obvious. Joe knows that, so I’m just sayin’…

Drew Gurian says:

on April 20, 2010 at 7:23 am

Ingomar, She’s definitely got a few notches on me in the looks department…time to start lookin for a new job.

Hope you’re doing great bud!

Alejandro Cerutti says:

on April 20, 2010 at 7:25 am

Another GREAT post from GREAT photographer AND novelist, Joe McNally :)

Greetings from Argentina,


Mark says:

on April 20, 2010 at 7:31 am

Jesus…what a life….

Doru Oprisan says:

on April 20, 2010 at 8:21 am

Is Romania on your travel list ? I wouldn’t want to miss you for the world !

John A. says:

on April 20, 2010 at 8:37 am

Your narrative is only second to your photography! I can always picture what you are doing by your descriptive story telling.

Glad you’re getting to share what you love to do with your wife too!

Paul says:

on April 20, 2010 at 8:55 am

Dogger, Fisher, German Bight…….stuff of legend.

Kent says:

on April 20, 2010 at 9:01 am

Love the love Joe.
It’s great to live through you.

Michael says:

on April 20, 2010 at 9:04 am

They’ve moved Parsons Green to the other side of the Thames now…

Tina Blum says:

on April 20, 2010 at 9:10 am


If this photography thing stops working for you, you could try poetry. That was a beautiful post. Thank you.

Stuart Mackenzie says:

on April 20, 2010 at 10:19 am

@Joe. Ah I see, well you learn new stuff everyday dont you 😀

Ljubo says:

on April 20, 2010 at 10:46 am

Coffee break, snakes are behaving, can’t wait for part two :)

Paul R. says:

on April 20, 2010 at 11:21 am

Hey Joe,

Great writing as usual. Love it. Have to mention though that we don’t have any active volcanos in Canada (not Southern Ontario anyway) and we’re easy to fly in and out of (and we have GREAT BEER to boot!!!) When are you going to bring big top to Canada – love to see you hear!

Ian says:

on April 20, 2010 at 11:55 am

Would love to come to one of your seminars, even a short one, but I can’t believe that Nikon Switzerland are charging US$370 for 3.5 hours. Especially when full day seminars in the US are $99!
I think I’ll wait and try to get a place in GPP next year, hope you’ll be there!

Bob says:

on April 20, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Have you been reading Dewitt Jones again? Great post. Thanks.

Girish says:

on April 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm

That’s a fantastic post. I actually thought the first shot was if you were affected due to a earthquake or a volcano ;)…or a break which did not work.

Good to know more about you and how you fared and what you went through. The spirit behind the photographer. It’s not easing being you. You have to run around, learn when and where you be where you are. Inspiring really.

Look forward for more posts and photographs.

Any plans to come to Mumbai, India.

Asa Schultz says:

on April 20, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Wow. Amazing writing, I really get the feeling of those many miles and journeys.

Zack Arias says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Stuck just south of you in Italy!

Zack & Meg

Jill Flusemann says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Hey Joe, Bryan Peterson and I (crazy photoshop Minneapolis girl w/your Wilma shot) just finished up his workshop in Amsterdam and are stranded here. Swing by and pick us up :)

Take care and hope you get out soon.

Will says:

on April 20, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Poetry, man.

Bob Kelly says:

on April 20, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Hi Joe…

Thanks for one of your most special posts in a long time! I loved your reflective views of how you got where you are, and the positives those experiences gave to you. The last part about building more bridges, making connections is what an international perspective is all about. I am glad Annie could be with you, for I know from your previous writings, you are more complete when she is at your side.

Becky Bender says:

on April 20, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Joe, this was beautifully written, and shows the true soul of an artist and wanderer. No wonder what you show us through your lens in so breathtaking. Thanks for sharing, I really enjoy your thoughts from the road :)

(P.S.- caught your seminar in Philly, I learned so much, thank you!)

Jim White says:

on April 20, 2010 at 8:29 pm

I’m happy to hear that Annie is traveling with you Joe . . I’m certain that given the amount of globe hopping you’ve done lately, you’ve missed her terribly . . great post too :)

Luis says:

on April 20, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Great post, one of the best reads in a while…inspiring.

Ken Toney says:

on April 20, 2010 at 10:32 pm

That ain’t workin, thats the way you do it, money for nothin get your chicks for free!

Andres Bermudez says:

on April 20, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Thanks for that brief insight into what set you on the road you’re on. It seems that what’s needed is a little faith in oneself and in the world. Faith in oneself to take that leap and in the world to be welcoming when you land. And it doesn’t matter what it is you set out to do. Sometimes when you get older, as I am, you forget that it’s still possible to make that leap. And that the world will probably still be as welcoming as it was when we were young.

Laura says:

on April 21, 2010 at 2:08 am

Great post, thank you Joe.

mhauri says:

on April 21, 2010 at 4:29 am

I wish I could attend your workshop in Switzerland, but is unfortunately completely booked.

Zvone says:

on April 21, 2010 at 5:12 am

I believe that the organizer is responsible for yesterday’s bad event in Ljubljana, it was a big disappointment. Too bad, because Mr. McNally I have great respect for you!

Dennis Pike says:

on April 21, 2010 at 6:48 am

I understand why you went to London from Syracuse all those years ago, you wanted to see the sun more. Syracuse is such a miserable city. Glad to be gone from it.

Joe McNally says:

on April 21, 2010 at 9:00 am

hi…thanks for the kind words, but don’t feel the event was bad at all….tough room to work, to be sure, but remember the point of the whole deal is to put lighting issues out there and deal with them, not finish pictures or move slowly….best, Joe

Alen G says:

on April 21, 2010 at 10:18 am

C’mon son!

It was great. Hope to see you back in Slovenia soon. Your assistants Rene and Domen were great.

Ljubo says:

on April 21, 2010 at 10:28 am

That curtains were surely not photogenic, but i liked the blue backlit audience as the background (especially on the last ones with the snakes :) ). I was really pleased with the event, thanks again Joe.

Grega says:

on April 21, 2010 at 11:57 am

For me, the event was great!

I really liked the “take what you have at hand” approach in the room, which certainly was not the best photographic studio. But hey, it’s real life scenario and I think that many (at least non-pros) will like the idea of trying with multiple setups before building up for the final shot.

@Joe McNally: Did you found out what was causing errors?

I hope you will return someday :)


stephen says:

on April 21, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I’m so jealous of you, Joe!

Spencer says:

on April 21, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Enjoy Lj, I was just there last week. Doing Europe by rail for a month and thinking of trading design for photography now!

Louis Pang says:

on April 21, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Love this post. Love hearing not just about shutter speed, aperture and light settings. Love to hear the heart beat behind the frame. Love to hear how much you enjoy being with Annie. We’ll have her here in Malaysia with you next year.

Enjoy Europe :)

Joy says:

on April 21, 2010 at 9:28 pm

@Andres: Thanks for this:
…Sometimes when you get older, as I am, you forget that it’s still possible to make that leap. And that the world will probably still be as welcoming as it was when we were young.

Brought tears to my 55-year-old eyes. May it be true!

@Joe: As always, much enjoyed. And I’m glad Annie’s there with you. P.S. How many flashes did you use in that tunnel?

Sasa says:

on April 22, 2010 at 1:31 am


I have a deep respect for you as a photographer, and as a person. You truly inspire all those around you, well, at least the ones that are open for inspiration..

Was really happy when saw that you’re coming to Slovenia, so I enlisted without hesitation. As I mostly shoot concerts, where flash as you know is a big no-no, I don’t use flash almost at all, but to see the master at work, was a great privilege.

And I’m so happy I did, I really enjoyed it much, especially your laid back attitude and great humor. So, once again, thanks a lot for a great technical and motivational event in Ljubljana. And yep, we should have been arrested for having that much fun!

GlenF says:

on April 22, 2010 at 3:34 am

I love your life today – what joy! Pix-elation.

Zvone says:

on April 22, 2010 at 7:55 am

Sorry, but the photo session was too slow. Photo equipment (tripods) and assistants were not prepared for the job … It was a presentation in front of professional photographers (there were a large number of enthusiasts as well) and was supposed to be better organized. It was fun to be with you, Mr. McNally. I hope to have the opportunity to be present at your workshop in the future. With great respect, Zvone

Paul says:

on April 22, 2010 at 8:12 am

I love the fact you know where Lowestoft is, a lot of people in the UK would struggle to point to it on a map!

Ljubljana is cool, should be extra cool by car not plane…

PaulFrocchi says:

on April 23, 2010 at 8:59 am

Joe, I’m a first time reader and what a start. That is so beautifully written and inspiring. Thankyou for sharing.

Mat says:

on April 24, 2010 at 11:00 am

Hey Joe, the event was great!
It was nice to see your approach to the photo shoot.
I admire your energy, positive thinking and sense of humor…
I hope you decide to visit Slovenia again and to see another event like this soon

Greetings from Ljubljana!

Martin C says:

on April 24, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Joe, you should write a “biography” book of your life!
I truly mean it! This blog is very inspiring! Love the honesty and purity behind each word. Reflecting your journey through words…

karl bratby says:

on April 25, 2010 at 3:17 pm

thanks for sharing Joe,

Tanya Rist says:

on April 26, 2010 at 9:59 am

Hey Joe – Did you already stop in Switzerland? Did I miss it? If not, when will you be here, and where?

Eric says:

on April 27, 2010 at 9:03 am

Best blog post ever.

Rob Metras says:

on April 27, 2010 at 11:39 am

Hope you get a chance to take photos in Ljubjlana. Beautiful vistas around Koper on the Adriatic and at Bled Castle. If you like food/pastry shots get a picture of the Kremschnitten they serve in Bled.

B says:

on April 30, 2010 at 10:49 am


thank you for comming to Slovenia. It was a privilege seeing and listening to you, really inspiring. Hope to see you again soon.


Patrick says:

on May 2, 2010 at 3:04 am

Hello Joe,
I´ve visited your workshop in munich and i want to thank you so much for your inspiration and motivation. I think some things will chanche in my own work now.

Picture Zealot says:

on May 5, 2010 at 6:51 pm

I just wanted to let you know that Oliver Reinhardt was Mr. Universe, not Mr. Olympia. No big deal. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind the step up!

Great article. Thank you for taking the time to put these up.

Dave Hutchinson says:

on May 8, 2010 at 11:46 am

Joe, you are quite the story teller! I always enjoy your writing as well as your photography. Lynn and I were in Slovenia a couple of years ago. I hope that you were able to get to Lake Bled. Some great views there. Ljubiana is also a magnificent town.

M Sairul says:

on July 14, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Hi Joe, nice writing! thnx for sharing

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