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Apr 10

In history, Rambling at 8:15am

You know you’ve been in the picture making business for a while when certain milestones rise up and pass you by like a sign on the highway. Trust me, as you get older, those signs loom faster and whisk by quicker. Your pictures then, become a marker, an “I was there” notation, surely as the “Cracker Barrel, One Mile, Exit 14A” billboards on the interstate. That’s the inherent beauty of being a photog. You had to be there to make that picture. I have used this logic with pup reporters on stories at various times when they have lamented to me on the homeward bound airplane, “Well, you’re sure lucky, your job’s over, my work is just starting!”

“That might be true, but here’s something I bet you haven’t thought of, dingbat. I better have it in the can right now, ’cause I can’t make a picture over the phone.”

I’m sure digital technology will evolve to the point where we can make an interesting picture while on the phone. (Not with a phone, on a phone, of someplace or of someone we’re calling to.) I’m sure that day is in our future. I hope I’m dead.

The tenth anniversary of the death of Ken Kesey passed not too long ago, without too much fanfare. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of his book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The quintessential Merry Prankster, author, and provocateur, who, along with some mates,  boarded a bus called Furthur and set off on a cross country, drug fueled jaunt.  The group became the stuff of legend, largely due to the mythologizing capacities of Tom Wolfe, who penned a chronicle of the bus trip called The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. (Both of the above are required reading, by the way.)

I visited Kesey at his place in Oregon quite a number of years ago, courtesy of the London Observer, which was a terrific magazine to shoot for. (For them, I also shot Angie Bowie, the subject of Mick Jagger’s “Angie” and, as she put it, graduate of the real first class of rock and roll. Shooting Angie undraped will be the subject of another blog, sometime or other.)

But Kesey was not an easy mark. Smart and media savvy, he put up a bit of a tussle, which I’ve written about. That was okay. Most folks worth photographing often put up something of a fight, or at the very least, are not the most predictable of sorts. (You would not expect predictability from the mind that spawned Randle McMurphy.) I spent two days at his place, on and off, picking off a picture or two, as he made time. It was okay by me, as being around Kesey, even briefly, was like buying a ticket to the Tilt-a-Whirl at the county fair. You came out a little unsteady, and your compass no longer spun right to true north. Seeing as I’ve always enjoyed being off by a few degrees, it was an enjoyable visit. Plus, it was cool to shoot the bus.

It’s also, roughly, the 50th anniversary of when Tony Bennett first sang his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Tony is still belting them out, thankfully, and those little cable cars are still climbing to the stars. I’ve worked with Tony a number of times, and can report that there is no classier person in all of show biz. Decent, and gentlemanly come to mind, immediately. When I was with him in out at the city by the bay, he graciously agreed to go out to the worldwide symbol of SF, the Golden Gate Bridge. There, up on the headlands, I made a quiet picture of him sketching the bridge.

That night, onstage, he stopped his show, which normally was as scripted as a Swiss watch, looking down at his ordinarily immaculate shoes. He shook his head and chuckled a bit. “I was out at the Golden Gate Bridge earlier today with the photographer from LIFE magazine, you know, taking some pictures,” he told the audience. “And I just noticed, I’m up onstage here, and I got mud on my shoes!”

“I’ve never done this before onstage,” he continued. And, stopping everything, he reached down to both his shoes and did a little quick maintenance. Looking up and smiling, he went back on script. I was shooting him from the back of the house, and I had to return the smile in the darkness. Photography, once again, proved to be the break in the day, the unexpected turn in the road, and the mud on someone’s shoes.

Tony’s wonderful to spend time with, being easygoing, gregarious, and of course, supremely talented. Everyone knows about his legendary pipes, but what is sometimes overlooked is his skill as an artist. I made these pix in his NY apartment as he sketched his view.

I didn’t have the nerve to ask him for the sketch. It would have been inappropriate, even though he made it, quite quickly, so I could shoot him while he drew. It was beautiful, and done in a matter of minutes. Another great thing about being a shooter? You get, occasionally, to meet people who are supremely talented at what they do. It’s enriching, and humbling.

Tony being a kid from Queens, I shot him with another bridge, by the way.

And, news came this week that Italian soccer star Giorgio Chinaglia passed away. Flamboyant, outspoken and stylish, both on the field and off, Giorgio was in the vanguard of international soccer stars that propelled the early days of the North American Soccer League. He played for the NY based Cosmos, alongside the legendary Pele, and German star Franz Beckenbauer. This trio ensured that the Meadowlands, home of the NY Giants, rocked and rumbled to capacity crowds cheering a different sort of football.

I covered Soccer Bowl ’78, and it was a wild time. I ended up in the shower with Pele. Hmmmm….life as a shooter has always been weird, and wonderful.

More tk….

Kent Weakley says:

on April 10, 2012 at 8:21 am

It’s amazing how well photography can mark time. :)

steve metz says:

on April 10, 2012 at 8:44 am

lovely article. thank you for making it.

Mike says:

on April 10, 2012 at 9:17 am

Your writing is almost as wonderful as your photography. Very inspirational. Just this morning I am battling an overzealous piano teacher who wants to ban still cameras from her recital, my son’s first. A small milestone, but important for me to document.

AndyL says:

on April 10, 2012 at 9:42 am

Many thanks Joe, for your ramblings. Succinct, and casually to the point. As always, a joy to read. Thank you…

Peggy says:

on April 10, 2012 at 9:58 am

Great article! This really made me stop and think. I’m just a beginning photography enthusiast with a lot to learn. But to stop and think about the photo that you are creating and giving it meaning is really important.
Enjoy reading your blog!

Tina Blum says:

on April 10, 2012 at 10:00 am

Ahhhh! Another beautifully written article. Ya know, if this photography gig doesn’t work out for you, ya oughtta consider writing. 😉

Bob says:

on April 10, 2012 at 10:24 am


Each one of these is a significant milestone. I was pleased to learn that Kesey is required reading…after Cuckoo’s Nest, go on to Once a Great Notion and Sailor Song…all fabulous. Missing Ken, all of the time.

Thanks for posting these fabulous images. Now, please talk amongst yourselves, I am all verklempt.

David says:

on April 10, 2012 at 10:36 am

Very interesting read. Ending up in the shower with Pele sounds uber cool! Wow.

Joyce May says:

on April 10, 2012 at 10:38 am

You take a certain vow of poverty choosing photojournalism, but the people you meet and the events you witness makes you rich nonetheless.
I’m just a small-time, small-town photojournalist, but I would choose this profession over cubicle life any day!

William Chinn says:

on April 10, 2012 at 10:42 am

First off, thanks again for the look back. Secondly, Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski recently mentioned what makes a great picture. Omitted was taking pictures of interesting people doing their thing. If a common numnut was photographed, maybe not so interesting. But take the photo of a interesting person doing something such as looking out a window, or taking a shower, or drinking a cup of coffee and you’ll catch our attention. Then if its from a good photographer you may keep our attention. Maybe more so than a pic from an exotic locale.

J R says:

on April 10, 2012 at 11:55 am

Here in Eugene, we have a statue of Kesey, an honor shared only by the town founder himself. We adore his talent as much as his fearless authenticity. As a child I thought photos only captured a likeness — but you’ve shown us how much more they can capture, reveal and preserve. Thank you for the inspiration!

Fran Ruchalski says:

on April 10, 2012 at 11:55 am

Thanks once again for the words and the photos. While most don’t realize it, photojournalism is an honor and a privilege, as well as a profession. The events you get to record, the people you get to meet, the memories you get to keep are all something special. And you, sir, with the way you think, light and compose and the photos you make, are at the top of the heap. One day, one of my milestones will be the day I meet you.

Ken Carlson says:

on April 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Thanks Joe, you have a way of evolving the reader
In the stories you tell. Great job and keep em comming.

Rich Cave says:

on April 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Nice to sit down with a cup of coffee read something honest,

Karen B says:

on April 10, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Joe, Let there be another book coming our way with more of your “stories” …your pictures say a thousand words but your words add the sparkle and make it all dance so beautifully together. Thanks for all you share.

Simon says:

on April 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm

So very true how pictures come back to remind us of long forgotten events, or perhaps tiny fleeting moments that were actually major turning points with the benefit of hindsight now.

Milestones – I am so grateful to have so many of my own captured forever on both film & pixels.

Thanks yet again for another great read Joe.

Andor says:

on April 11, 2012 at 4:52 am

Awesome story again – of both photography and life, that’s why I like reading your posts Joe, thank you for that!

Ardean says:

on April 11, 2012 at 8:28 am

Great article and reminder on how making pictures IS a time machine. :)

JerseyStyle Photography says:

on April 11, 2012 at 11:56 am

What a beautiful post. The Bennett photos are beautiful and sublime, and that stage story is a keeper.

So, these cameras we carry around…they are recording devices…they are visas…they are time machines…sometimes all in one…

~ Mark

Richard says:

on April 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm

It seems for me that I have a photographic memory, but not in the traditional sense; I remember through my images, even if I am not looking at them, the memory of the image I took is the trigger that helps be bring back the rest of the event from the archives of my brain. As I get older, I find it harder and harder to dig into those cranial archives, and the photos chronicling my experience become more important to me. The good photos I make are always the final goal, but even the ones that aren’t so great, that I may never hang on the wall or show another soul, still help to remind me of a time and a place on my own personal timeline of life.

It is always great reading your wonderful writing. It is amazing how much you have managed to fit into your life so far, and may there be many more adventures for you in the future, and your ability and willingness to share your adventures is greatly appreciated.

Colin says:

on April 12, 2012 at 8:53 am

As always a lovely expression and sentiment. Thank you, it’s a joy to read.

By the way do you know anything about the new book; Running Scared by Joe McNally

Joe McNally says:

on April 12, 2012 at 9:27 am

many thanks for reading the blog, and no, that’s gotta be my long lost brother who wrote that:-)

Maria Eugenia says:

on April 15, 2012 at 1:18 pm

do you have more pictures from Soccer bowl’79. and where can I see it.


Maria Eugenia says:

on April 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm

sorry Soccer Bowl ’78

Lyle says:

on April 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I have stood, I’m certain – at exactly the same spot as Tony Bennett. Thanks for the memory of that day.

Tauno Ööbik says:

on April 18, 2012 at 12:00 am

Thanks Joe,
I used to come here solely for the beauty of pictures. Now I come here for the stories. Thank you for showing how these two subjects are so close married together.

Jude says:

on April 19, 2012 at 8:09 am

I’m sure you’ve been told this before, but you are a natural writer. These stories have to be compiled and published, they’re just awesome and bring us right into each scene; each one a true “moment in time”. I am so looking forward to your autobiography, which of course will have to be updated in 2022!
Thanks for the inspiration, as they say here in Ireland without the usual connotations….you’re a star!

Cindy Snyder says:

on May 1, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Finally saw this – we’ve been buried in another Scott book. NY Cosmos vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies. Those were the days. My family had season tix to the Rowdies for many years. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

Eric Wester says:

on May 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I was really sorry to hear of the passing of Giorgio Chinaglia. I was a huge fan of the California Surf and went to every game they played at the Big A. My sister and my father were on the field while I sat in the stands with my mom and brother. My sister was a ball girl and my father was on the sideline shooting photos. I still remember sitting in a darkroom with my dad as he push processed film from the games in order to get grainy, but usable prints.

My favorite games were when the Cosmos came to town because we got to see the big stars. I am so glad the MLS is doing so well and the league has attracted international stars such as David Beckham, Freddy Lungberg, and Thierry Henry. Perhaps one day I will try and get my family together, go to a Galaxy game, and see about getting on the field to shoot some pictures. Then, my boys and I can sit at my digital darkroom and enjoy spending quality time together as my dad did with me.

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