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Dallas Stopover

Feb 25

In Friends, history at 10:14am

Went through Dallas on this trip to visit a couple of dear friends. We met through photography. They fit a bit of a typical profile for photo enthusiasts. One is a very good, ardent shooter, and the other is an ever patient, equipment toting spouse.

I taught a bit at a local high school, lecturing both the art and journalism classes, and hopefully meeting the two in the middle. While down there my friends offered to host a dinner to acquaint friends of theirs’ with the Giant Polaroid Collection known as Faces of Ground Zero. It was a very welcome attempt to attract funding for the collection. The collection itself is covered now, thankfully, under the umbrella of the New York Foundation for the Arts, and their tax deductible giving program known as Artspire. Follow the link to learn more, or make a contribution.

A quick note came in today from my friends in Dallas…..  ” I too, spent some time with these Faces of Ground Zero, since it was my living room they inhabited for two days this week.  I had not been prepared for the emotional impact these huge images have when one is able to see them face to face.  To those of you who admire Joe’s work and follow his blog – Please, please join us in this fundraising effort with Artspire so these images can be installed in the  9/11 Memorial Museum. Every contribution, large or small, will help ensure the safe future for this magnificent Collection, described by the Museum Director as, ” An endeavor of exceptional artistic, emotional and historical significance.”  Joe McNally, who gives so generously of his time, his caring, and his expertise in photography to all of us who admire him, can do with some help on this.”

It was the first time I had seen these pictures staged in a sedate, non-public setting. I made them, unbelievably, 10 years ago, in the tumultuous month that followed 9/11/01. Now, in the quiet of this beautiful room, we had a short, but wonderful conversation.

Back in February of 2002, the collection began an odyssey. Starting at Grand Central Station in NYC, it migrated to Boston, London, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then back to NY, which is where they ultimately belong. They came out of storage again at the 5th Anniversary of 9/11, staging at the Firefighter’s Museum, down on Spring Street. During the course of this journey, they became a book, elevated awareness, and helped in an effort that raised almost $2 million dollars for 9/11 relief.

Other than that, they’ve been in storage. 24,000 pounds of framed, crated pictures, all over nine feet tall. Storing them month after month has been an uphill fight for my small studio, and in tough years, damn near broke me. Adorama came to the rescue a couple years ago, and now they pay the storage bill. It was the first of numerous, wonderful collaborations I’ve had with that camera shop on 18th St.

It was good to see them again, like greeting old friends I hadn’t seen for five years. They called me back to that time, in that studio, with that giant beast of a camera. I slept over it, actually, in a loft bed. Didn’t stray farther than a couple blocks from the studio the whole time. Crews from ground zero showed up, often unannounced, at 2am, 8am, midnight, whenever. If they came, a picture was made.

I say “picture” advisedly. For most of the folks, I made one picture only. Each sheet of Polaroid was $300. Thank goodness the Giant Polaroid didn’t have a motor drive attachment.

The images bring back that desperate time, quite vividly. Every time the studio door would open, dust from the pit would sweep in, filling the room with the tang of destruction. There were tears, and anger.

But mostly, I remember the people. Filled with resolute dignity, they stepped in front of this strange photographic instrument and shared their story, their loss, and their determination. A bond was made, and I feel it still. In the moment of exposure, an agreement was struck, a wordless understanding: I’ll stand for your camera, then it’s up to you to see it through.

As a group, we have traveled quite a ways for quite a while, and hopefully we’ll come soon to a destination. The 9/11 Memorial Museum wants to be their permanent home, which is appropriate, and I have hopes. I’ve been a photog too long to say more than that. I have hopes. After 30 years behind the lens, it’s enough to have.

It’s a wonderful thing to be a photog. We can illustrate the pages of our adventure, sometimes with pictures that really mean something.

More tk….

james says:

on February 25, 2011 at 10:39 am

Interesting stuff, this. Something for me to think about during the long flight ahead.

Janine Smith says:

on February 25, 2011 at 10:54 am

Any plans to exhibit them this year for the 10th anniversary?

Patrik Lindgren says:

on February 25, 2011 at 11:02 am

I think i can understand that you have a special bond to these images and the ones in them.
Fantastic project and fantastic images. I´ve been to Ground Zero in 2006 and it was a rare moment.
To bad that it seems impossible to get a hold of a copy of the book, i guess it was out of stock several years ago. It would be nice to have that book in my collection.

You seem to be one of very few that can actually mix your posts with both flashy/happy stuff and once in awhile there are these kind of posts that have a more serious approach.
I really like that about you, and i also like that you still seem to be a photojournalist in heart and soul.

Ryan Clements says:

on February 25, 2011 at 11:27 am

First off..Great post. Like Patrik said I wish I could get a copy of the book. This project was the first I had seen of yours and it’s one of the main reasons I’m in this business today. Can’t wait to see you and Hobby on the bus in Atlanta.

William Chinn says:

on February 25, 2011 at 11:28 am

Was the camera there too? If not what happened to it? Its amazing that a photograph/pher can continue to add to its story 10 years later. If you consider the subject matter and the media, $300/shot is a bargain.

Ted McAusher says:

on February 25, 2011 at 11:54 am

Loved this post. Clearly, you have a talent. And what’s especially beautiful about it, is how much your talent can mean to other people. Inspirational Joe. I’d love to see this exhibit.

Gary says:

on February 25, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Tears come to my eyes every time I see these images.
I want to help. But, the Artspire link does not seem to work. all I get is “http”

Sam Russell says:

on February 25, 2011 at 12:53 pm

I have a copy of the book and look through it often, and try to imagine all that these people have seen. Having a place for a permanet dispaly would be great, then maybe I would have a chance to see them in person. Looking forward to meeting you in Grand Rapids.

Texan Mama says:

on February 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm

This? This is why I don’t ever want to be a photographer who seats famiies in a woodsy field and has to rely on Photoshop to pretty up the final proofs.

I want my photography to be real. To capture the emotion. To preserve the imperfection, the messiness of life.

Thanks, Joe. You are an inspiration to many, including me.

Can’t wait to actually meet you when you come to Dallas with the Flash Bus!

Robert McClintock says:

on February 25, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Hey Joe,

I’ve been an ardent admirer of Bob Krist for a while now and, though I had certainly heard of you before, linked to this blog via his.

You are an excellent photographer and probably a pretty nice fellow, but this Post of yours raised you to the high level (in my book), because of this line: “A bond was made, and I feel it still. In the moment of exposure, an agreement was struck, a wordless understanding: I’ll stand for your camera, then it’s up to you to see it through.”

Isn’t this the heart of every photograph, especially the last part [to paraphrase] “It’s up to ME to see it through”?

I’ll keep and remember this quote, to which I now call “The Photographer’s Bond.” (Hope that’s OK with you, and that you don’t mind the double-entendre.)

A photograph can be an awesome responsibility sometimes. Someone should have taken your photo and put it alongside the other heroes of that time.

Thank you,


Hoi says:

on February 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm

I just started working right across the river from WTC then. News about and related to this collection never stops me from wanting to say “Thank you!” to you. There is such an intense energy to it. It provides a connection between the event and the people and the rest of us. Glad to see the collection finds a home. Would love to have a copy of the book, too. Thank you again.

Joe McNally says:

on February 25, 2011 at 1:52 pm

True enough William…but, when you throw in 2000 a day for the studio, and (occasionally) 40 or so shots done in a day, you can really run up the tab pretty quick…Joe

Joe McNally says:

on February 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Sorry! Fixed it…

Charlie says:

on February 25, 2011 at 3:20 pm

For most this work would be the pinnacle. THE thing for which they are known and one day remembered. And that would be a great thing, because this is a wonderful and important accomplishment. The way it seems to me, it is only a piece (albeit an important piece) of the man Joe McNally.
Joe, you’re an inspiration and that you’re humble and accessible, makes you seem like a friend and a confidante. We’re lucky that you found your voice here in this blog. Thank you.

Martha says:

on February 25, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Joe, you have the best heart. It’s the most important piece of gear you have.

Tom Bricker says:

on February 25, 2011 at 4:00 pm

You’re a good man, Joe!

paul says:

on February 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I drove 100 miles to see and hear your masterpiece at Union Station in The Windy City. It was a Sunday nite, late and the cavernous waiting room was empty except for a few travelers, me, you via the awesome video soundtrack and all those heroes and heroines. It was one of the most emotionally moving moments in my life. The sound of the strobes popping and recycling transported me to the Jersey shore, seeing the people being immortalized. On 9-11 I had just sat down in the barber’s chair, old school, always CNN on, when the second plane hit.
As Martha says- Cameras are boxes with holes in them- YOU fill us up with your images– thanks man!!

Lorri E says:

on February 25, 2011 at 5:48 pm

I just recently picked up this book on the secondary market. It definitely brought tears to my eyes. I think having the originals on display at the 9/11 Memorial Museum is a wonderful idea. Your work on this project is an inspiration to me.

Tim Skipper says:

on February 25, 2011 at 6:40 pm


I have never had the chance to see the entire collection, I hope to one day soon. I’m glad others have stepped up to help preserve it.

Quinn says:

on February 25, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Great stuff here Joe. Can’t wait to see you in Philly April 6th.
One Question about Faces of Ground Zero. Was there ever an attempt to have it exhibited at the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art? Seems to me they’d be great there.
Thanks again!

Boston Wedding Photographer says:

on February 26, 2011 at 12:14 am

It’s important work and I really want to take some time and see these photographs the next time I’m in NYC

Betty Sue Finnelll says:

on February 26, 2011 at 11:46 am

As I said before “WOW”!!! My art and journalism students at Fairhill School are still talking about your presentation at our school. They all wished we had more time to see more of your work and hear more about your photographic assignments. You certaily lit a fire under some of the them. A few of my students plan to attend your siminar in Dallas next month. Your passion for your art was an inspiration to all of my kids. You were an engaging, awesome speaker and your presentation is one that will always be remembered. Thank you so much for your time and effort!!
Betty Sue Finnell

Ron McKitrick says:

on February 26, 2011 at 11:49 am

Joe, I want to thank you for posting this… we as Americans tend forget… and we need these little reminders of what happened to NYC, USA, and the world.

With Gratitude,

Jim says:

on February 26, 2011 at 10:02 pm

I would think that such a collection should be in MOMA or the Smithsoneum

Patrick says:

on February 27, 2011 at 7:32 am


Your unique combination of story telling verbally with words and visually with pictures never ceases to amaze me. I felt compelled to donate after reading the blog entry and seeing just a glimpse of the faces of 9/11. I really admire your work Joe and hope these heroes portraits are preserved for future generations.

JerseyStyle Photography says:

on February 27, 2011 at 7:26 pm

So nice to read about these images again, Joe. I still remember the three of us, in a van someplace in Middle America, you on the phone having discussions about these images. Think you were working on the details of the opening at that point. Seems like yesterday…yet so long ago too.

Glad to see they still have an impact. Then again…they always will.

~ Mark

carlos says:

on February 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I love reading the posts from the crusty curmudgeon, full of self-deprecating humor. But every now and then you show us the warm hearted poet that lies just beneath the surface. Very eloquent. I salute you as well as those who stood for your camera, in part because they represent those souls who were unable to stand in front of your lens. To you I say, Thanks.

Barry Rayburn says:

on February 28, 2011 at 4:11 pm

A Challenge …

Guys (and gals). So many of us have benefitted from Joe’s teaching via his seminars, books and blog. I know my photography is a much different beast than it would have been if not for finding Joe and his infinite capacity to share his skills and knowledge. As a community, let’s step up to what’s important to him – the Faces of Ground Zero. Please follow the Artspire link. After you register, you can choose Joe’s project from the drop down and make your donation.

The project is worthy of support, all the moreso for all that Joe has given us as photographers. Every little bit helps guys!


Jason says:

on February 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Every time I read about this series it gives me a mixed feeling:

#1 – Very commendable project
#2 – How sad it is for those survivors
#3 – While remembering is important, at what point do we move on?

If I was one of the surviving friends, families and loved ones, I’d be torn between hoping they didn’t die for nothing, while at the same time, a part of me would probably not like being reminded every year for the next ten…

Tough call to say the least – do you republish to remind people, to keep the memories alive, or do you let it die and fade along with the fallen?

Trudy says:

on February 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Truly beautiful work! Moving photographs…

Neil Smith says:

on March 2, 2011 at 7:24 am

A very touching story Joe. I hope I get a chance to see them one day.

Dennis McGeady says:

on March 2, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Thanks for this, Joe. The events of Sept. 11 were truly horrific. But, the real pain for me came in the days following. I am an NYC based Actor, and I was called upon to audition for PSA’a, Voiceover spots, and TV commercials that portrayed the feelings and sympathy of advertisers across our great nation. Walking the streets of New York and seeing the endless posters asking for any information on missing friends and relatives, passing Fire Houses with memorials to lost comrades, and the overwhelming sadness of ALL the people you passed on the streets still remain painfully clear in my mind. These were difficult times for me, and these images still brought tears to me eyes. As we, a population of caring individuals have side for the past 10 years….”NEVER FORGET!”

Ivan says:

on March 2, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Joe, I worked in building 7 WTC, and experienced first hand the horrific events on 911. When I think back on occasion, I’m overcome with emotion. Your faces of ground zero work brings back those emotions and is a reminder to never forget those heroes. The images are so important to me for that. The are the most beautiful and historic record that must be preserved. I’m looking forward to saying hi and to thank you for making those magnificent images when you visit the NYC tour stop.

Chris Nemes says:

on March 3, 2011 at 4:39 am

Remember, remember
The eleventh of September
The gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

bycostello says:

on March 3, 2011 at 6:24 am

sad that a peie of modern history has to be self funded…

Oliver says:

on March 4, 2011 at 12:24 am

A great legacy and incredibly moving portraits. Why is it, that the medium and “oneshotness” in the making of these portraits add to the power of the images?

On another note, thanks for sharing. I was remembering you pushing a cart full of gear out of the Shriner’s in your Corporate shoot video for Kelby Training as I was dragging my dolly out after a shoot today. Great photog or not, the gear still has to get moved…

Mo says:

on March 4, 2011 at 5:49 am

Joe..I know you are very busy preparing for the Flash Bus. I just have a quick question off the subject. When will your new Joe Mcnally Lastolite product line be in-stock? I just saw the new Joe Mcnally triflash and skylite and went crazy overthem. Thanks Joe

Chris Nemes says:

on March 6, 2011 at 5:55 am

Forgot to mention the source of the poem in my previous post – Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night, a theme that also inspired the Wachowskis’ movie V for Vendetta.
I think your project touches the subject of 9/11 in a similar manner, as a life-size metaphor of the events written by the people that were part of it.

Ninah Fleur says:

on March 18, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Seu trabalho é maravilhoso! Talvez você não saiba o que estou escrevendo e meu inglês é realmente péssimo, mas não posso deixar de dizer que suas imagens emocionam, dispensando as palavras.

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