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A Pro’s Pro

Dec 3

In Friends, history at 1:02am


When I was growing up photographically, which was a long time ago now, achieving the distinction of being a professional photographer was just that, a distinction. It had the aura, just a bit, of a degree, hard won after years of training and tribulations. It was attained by a relative few, and I have to imagine many folks, given the daunting aspects of forging a career and sustenance via the alchemy of acetate, wisely chose not to pursue it at all. I have always likened the career path of the photog of that era as a country road traveled by a hardy few, which the digital revolution has now replaced with a multi-lane superhighway, traveled by many, at a high frame rate. The dawn of shooting ones and zeros threw the door open, I believe in welcome fashion, to many, many folks, and image making now takes place at a feverish rate.

But, being of a certain age, I guess I remain somewhat rooted in tradition, and thus continue to celebrate the value and worth of the truly professional photographer. It’s a tough thing to do, and it tests the durability, patience, skills and fiber of those who choose to engage it in full blown fashion. When I was coming up, if someone was referred to in reverential tones, as a “pro’s pro,” it was high praise indeed. It meant the individual in question could do anything with a camera. Ken Regan was one of these.

Born in the Bronx, and determined at an early age to become a pro shooter, Ken ultimately became one of the truly big time image makers of our age. And, just like in pro sports, there are players, and then there are stars, the go to types. When the game is on the line, you want the ball in their hands. Ken was a pro who worked almost exclusively on the tightrope of high pressure jobs, covering big time Hollywood celebs, A-list music people, and major news and  sports, such as Olympiads, conventions and heavyweight boxing matches. Assignment-wise, he breathed rarefied air indeed, and he handled the mantle of intense pressure that comes with these assignments in a matter of fact way.

He coached me through my first heavyweight bout, Holmes vs. Cooney, Las Vegas, 1982. I was terrified of shooting the whole damn thing out of focus. He told me to keep my head in the game and my eye in the lens, and I’d be alright. At the end of the fight, typical of those days at Camera 5, we had to boogie from the bout to the airport to catch the last flight back to NY. Went straight from the airport to the UN the next morning and covered a huge peace rally that swept through the streets of NY. The timing was so tight, I left a remote camera high on a ring support back in Vegas. Just didn’t have the time to retrieve it. It eventually made its way back to me via a bud at the UPI.

As a young pup photog, I bought a ticket to Northern Ireland, and went there without a clue, or an assignment. Bobby Sands soon died in the H-blocks, and Ken got word to me to stick with it, he had found me guarantees from Newsweek and Bunte. Later that month, I found myself in Rome, broke, trying to cover the aftermath of the papal assassination attempt. He wired me $500 and told me to hang in there, finding again, the twofer of Newsweek and Bunte to guarantee my film. I came home from that trip, for the first time, with money in my agency account. And I thought, wow, this is how it works.

Ken always had a handle on how it worked. He was durable, had a fierce work ethic, and an astonishing ability to truly, completely, cover an event. At the 1984 Olympics in LA, he and Heinz Klutmeier of SI shared a motorcycle with all their gear, just so they could make the transit from venue to venue faster than the rest of us car bound shooters. He also knew how to make connections and find work, which of course is the lifeblood of a freelancer. He was the right mix of tenacity, toughness, talent, shrewd business sense, diplomacy, charm and wit to get and keep the kind of high level job he thrived on.

I’m writing this like Ken was my friend, and he was, but I don’t really claim to have known him all that well. He was an intensely private person, and he extended that sense of closely guarded privacy to his celeb subjects, which in turn, made them trust him, and ask magazines for him to be assigned to photograph them. His portfolio included over 200 magazine covers, which was a true measure of his access. He remained close to Dylan, the Stones, the Kennedy’s, and Ali for many years.

He is being buried today, in NY. Given the vagaries of the business, I am in Mexico. Given the round the world whirlwind of his life, and his dedication to the assignment at hand, no matter where it led,  I’m sure he’d understand. I feel bad. He worked so hard during his life, and had reached an age where he could have easily stopped to smell some of the roses, even given that stopping at any point in time was not his style. He just came out with a book called All Access, The Rock and Roll Photography of Ken Regan. I ordered it, and it’s sure to be just like Ken–on top of it, in the mix, filled with flesh and blood moments, and close to his subjects. I would have loved his signature on it.

Colleague, friend, and mentor….Godspeed….

more tk….




shea says:

on December 3, 2012 at 5:17 am

It was an honor to just have read this. I can only imagine what that book must read like. Thank you, Joe.

Nate Parker says:

on December 3, 2012 at 7:47 am

Wow -respect.

Emmanuel RIGAUT says:

on December 3, 2012 at 8:43 am

What a sad news this is. I worked with Ken in 2001 in Paris, he was set/still photog on a J. Demme movie which I worked on for 6 months. I had the chance to chat quite a lot with Ken. He was one hell of photog and a person. What a sad day for us photogs around the world this is. R.I.P. Ken.
Thx Joe.

Rich Pilling says:

on December 3, 2012 at 9:46 am

Very well said Joe. Ken will be missed by many. RIP Ken. Ar Pee

joey caraig says:

on December 3, 2012 at 9:53 am


Gordon Gurray says:

on December 3, 2012 at 9:56 am

Another great, even if sad, artivle from you. Thank you, Mr McNally.

Adam Stoltman says:

on December 3, 2012 at 10:06 am

Lovely tribute. Thanks so much for sharing. Good to remember the times and qualities you describe too, and for those too young to have experienced them, to have that introduction.

James says:

on December 3, 2012 at 10:17 am

Joe, I don’t know if you do it but even while a lot of photographs are just straight assignments I hope you are doing your best work at home for family and friends .I don’t know what it means but I am always left with the feeling that photographers push too hard and die too young. Yet, I hope to live a long long life. But in the vein of something David Burnett said – I don’t want to realize I didn’t turn around and take the pictures that matter.

MaryT says:

on December 3, 2012 at 11:12 am

Thank you Joe for sharing this. No more words.

Ken says:

on December 3, 2012 at 11:45 am

Nice to hear a about someone who mentors, and has has a careing heart. Wonderful story for me.

As a side note, my mom, age 93, in her last days, lays in her bed in a hospital. I take my camera to to get some last memories of me and my mom, tripod and all. A senior staff nurse informed me I an not allowed to take a photo of my mom in her private room……..I tried to reason and ask them to call someone who could make the happen. “Mr Lawson, you will have to call back on Monday”.

I know about and understand privacy issues, etc HIPPA,. I complied, Another administrated hosiptal run a muck. Perhasp some of your readers can benefit from the visual pain of all this.

My best
Ken in KY

PS, nice to have my Iphone4s with me. I just love those rules that beg to be broken

Pete Tsai says:

on December 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm

For anyone wanting to see some of Ken’s work you might check out this NPR Blog post that has 20 selected images from his book. I can see why Joe said he was a pro’s pro…

George Aubrey says:

on December 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm


Well said. It is clear that Ken lives on in you and others he touched and helped.

Thank you.

Rex Gigout says:

on December 3, 2012 at 9:18 pm

A wonderfully-written tribute.

Please accept my condolences.

Catherine Martin says:

on December 3, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Thank you Joe, for such a moving, personal tribute to a great photographer who clearly touched the lives of many.

Terry Tipton says:

on December 3, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Mr. McNally, Thank you for sharing, truly inspirational.

Jack Flemmings says:

on December 3, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Well expressed. Sorry to hear someone that important to you has passed. He left a large legacy in the journey from film to pixels. Blessings……..-cj

Tony C says:

on December 4, 2012 at 1:24 pm

“Ken Regan/Camera 5”

A classic byline that I saw so many times over the years.


Blanche Williamson says:

on December 5, 2012 at 2:03 am

A beautiful tribute to Ken from you Joe. Thanks for sharing those early days with us. You too became an awesome and hard working photographer. Kens legacy is forever through his and your eyes.

Joseph W. Nienstedt says:

on December 6, 2012 at 10:09 am

This was such a perfect way to send off someone you admire. By spreading his legacy to even more photogs and fans of photography, you’ve done more here than can be expected of even the closest of friends. Don’t feel bad that you’re doing what he and you both love!

Thanks for sharing this.

Ronald Pollard says:

on December 8, 2012 at 9:11 am


Thanks again for sharing your experience. I really admire the way you share with us your past stories that make you who you are today.

Craig McAllester says:

on December 8, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Thank you Mr. McNally, for passing on to those like me, all that Ken passed on to you.

MIchael Sparks Keegan says:

on December 12, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Joe, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. Sounds like one of those people that comes around once in a lifetime.
I know his work and it’s nice to know a little about the man from your description.

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