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Farewell to An Adventurer

Feb 29

In Memories at 8:49am

Memorial services were held recently for Micron Chairman Steve Appleton, killed in airplane accident earlier in the year. A stunt pilot, scuba diver, surfer, off road racing enthusiast, and a black belt in Taekwondo, he pushed the limits on a pretty continuous basis. “The older you get, the more risk you should take,” he evidently told a reporter once during an interview.

I met him, briefly, in Mexico. I was hired by Micron (who makes Lexar digital media cards, which have been a staple in my bag since I picked up a digital camera) to shoot (briefly) the Baja 1000 back in 2006. I have to suspect that it was Steve’s enthusiasms and urgings that got Micron involved in this crazed ritual of off road driving prowess held every year in very rough country. It was a massive undertaking involving dozens of crew, multiple cars, mechanics, tractor trailers, helicopters, and of course, teams of drivers. I had exactly one day to shoot the race, which meant I riccocheted around the dusty back roads of northern Mexico, shooting what and when I could. I think I intersected with the race three times, and shot the Micron cars as they zipped past me in seconds and vanished in the flying dirt. For my part in the actual race coverage, I saw the Micron vehicles for less than a minute. Steve, of course, piloting one of the cars, won his division.

Pretty amazing accomplishment given how nutty the race actually is. As you can see below, the cars get air quite frequently, and there are no guard rails or crowd controls. Lots of spectators are drunk by, say, 9am. I made the below while dodging beer bottles filled with pebbles that were being thrown at the photog guy who was standing in front of everyone.

I abandoned my fruitless quest for the Micron cars at a pit stop lit with torches in the interior of Mexico, around midnight.

Also managed to squeeze a camera inside one of the Micron cars, and it made the 1000 mile trip.

Given the dearth of race coverage I could provide, the impromptu portrait session Steve graciously agreed to loomed large in my coverage. We went driving together, and when he was rocking that car over hills and rocks and through the blinding sands of Mexico, I saw his face come alive. Not the typical CEO portrait session. Not the typical CEO. Godspeed.

More tk….

Rich Cave says:

on February 29, 2012 at 8:58 am

Sad to lose someone, however you were there to record the moments when he was at his best,

those photos will be a memory, comfort and record of someone living their life to the full.

Byron says:

on February 29, 2012 at 9:20 am

Steve rest in peace, you are one cool CEO dude! Not too many CEOs would partake in any type of adventures that you do.

Just curious, how did your camera and lens fare with all the hard bouncing and jarring inside the vehicle and along with the dust/dirt? BTW, I think your camera really look cool in desert camo…maybe you can talk to Nikon folks about it 😉 .

Raghuveer says:

on February 29, 2012 at 9:30 am

Touching article. Sad for the loss.

But like Rich Cave above says, You were there to record those fantastic moments.

“The older you get, the more risk you should take,”

Very Inspiring Line!!

mat says:

on February 29, 2012 at 10:36 am

A man full of adventure for life. Even more a caring man for his family, employees, and others.
Many do not know that Steve donated $$ to the people living along the race route. He was not simply there to race. He cared about people. A great loss.

Pete Mather says:

on February 29, 2012 at 10:44 am


Were you able to get the Nikon camera cleaned up after the Baha Race?

I have read the Hot Shoe Dairies and Sketching Light. Awesome read and recommend the books to anyone keen on flash or speedlights. Also fascinated how he uses his Nikon D3s and D3x cameras. I have a D3s and full range of FX lens. Not going to up grade until D5 though.

Furthermore wanted to see more of the Joe McNally Adventures so i joined on to Kelby Training. :)

Fotodog says:

on February 29, 2012 at 10:53 am

Another great blog post, Joe!

I admire you for many reasons, but one of your most endearing qualities is your appreciation for your subjects. It’s not just a job, you relate to them on so many levels and your passion for your art combined with the appreciation of the subject put you head and shoulders above the rest.

Sorry to hear your friend has passed. It’s never easy, but this post is a fitting tribute to the man himself.


William Chinn says:

on February 29, 2012 at 11:24 am

Life no matter the length needs to be lived or it is wasted.

ps. Recently while rearranging books, I noticed the picture at the top of the spine on your New Riders books. Has anyone else commented on this particular insanity?

Greg C. says:

on February 29, 2012 at 11:35 am

Nice tribute, and great pictures. RIP Steve. I remember the early days of Micron, they had a reputation for making high-quality and fast PC’s. I didn’t know Micron made the Lexar cards too. Thanks.

Björn says:

on February 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Really like the images. Especially the one of the D2X. Nikon really should have made an ad out of that one. It’s funny because my girlfriend and I were talking about that shot over dinner and 20 minutes later I read you blog and saw the picture again.

Thomas says:

on February 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Hey Joe if you wanted rid of a camera you could just have given it to me, you didn’t need to destroy it in the desert.

Jian | Print Notepads says:

on February 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm

We don’t say good bye to a good friend. Rest in peace, Steve. We will remember you as a great boss but most of all, as a friend, cherished forever.

Jay Mann says:

on March 1, 2012 at 12:52 am

“Go hard or go home” is a similar saying. Eventhough my family has experienced great loss as a direct result of this attitude, some of us still live by it everyday. I will admit that the level of ‘hard’ is declining slightly over the years, but the risk seems to remain. Great that you got the excellent images.


Dan says:

on March 2, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Jesus Joe.

I gotta tell you. I went to see Flashbus. I’ve read your blog. I’ve seen your work. My initial reaction? Yeah, you’re pretty awesome. But I was never really awe-inspired. I’m still not. You’re just a guy who does your job.

And that’s the thing.

I’ve written five novels. I can fix any bicycle you put in front of me. Got a motorcycle? I can fix it. I can even take photos sometimes.

It kills me. It does. Because you stuck with it and became more than just a pro. An icon. More importantly, you have compassion. That’s what makes a good photo. Compassion. It doesn’t matter what photo you take…you have to care. So many photogs don’t know that.

Anyway. Just another fan, I suppose. If you can call me that.

I’m more just another guy on the journey. You happen to be taking it better than I am.

Johnny Ofria says:

on March 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Does the camera still work after all the dust was cleaned off? Or maybe you left it that way..Gives it character!

Nick Bumgardner says:

on March 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Wow these are some stunning photos. This is the type of work that I really want to get.

Amazing work!

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