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Bo’s 50th!

Dec 10

In history at 6:05am

Bo Jackson just turned 50. That’s hard to believe. As a photog, you mark time not just by the calendar, or the ages of your kids, like many folks, but also by assignments done and pictures made. As shooters, we have the good fortune of creating a massive, ongoing scrapbook of our life and times, and getting paid for it. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that had “scam” written all over it.

It’s a noteworthy birthday for Bo, to be sure, and I wish him well. It’s a bit of a marker for me, also. Photographing him was my first big gig for Sports Illustrated. I went to Auburn, and spent a few days with him in the year he won the Heisman. Nice guy. Fun assignment.

The thing I really remember from the job was being scared outta my mind. You see, he was quite simply the best athlete I’ve ever been in the same room with. A triple threat in baseball, football and track, his physicality was so extraordinary, that, even when he was just plain walking around, he exuded strikingly supple grace and physical confidence. It was an unspoken announcement that this particular human body was, you know, a Ferrari. Most of the rest of us drive Hondas, Subarus and the like. In my case, it might be a Studebaker.

My mandate from the editors was to construct a typical set of feature pictures, from portraits to activities and interactions. One thing they were adamant about was showing his baseball prowess. It was off season, but he was practicing his swing in the batting cage. So, I got into the batting cage with him. Hence the aforementioned fear.

I was truly nervous, as he was hitting frozen ropes, and I was inside with him, firing bursts as I ducked behind a net. Couple times I coulda swore he took off a piece of my ear. I kept wondering what they would say at the SI equipment locker when I came back with a 300 f2.8 with a baseball stuck in the barrel.

Sadly, quite a number of pictures from this take have disappeared. That’s the way of it, occasionally, when your slides would swim through the maw of a big magazine, get shipped here and there, handled by your agent, and picture people unknown, mostly while you were on the road, doing something else. Slides, like socks, sometimes never made it back into their drawers.

I do have a few chromes left of the effort. Got to make portraits with him doing his trademark move at the time, chewing straws. Went to a grammar school with him, as well. As fierce a competitor as he was on the field, he was equivalently gentle with kids. When we walked into the classroom he turned to me and asked, “Which one do you want me to beat up first?” I pointed to a quaking youth and said something like, “Maybe start with that one.” Nervous giggles resonated throughout the classroom. The kids adored him.

It was like photographing a small town mayor. He knew everybody, and was greeted and waived to about ten times per block. We went downtown, and had a po’boy together, and I saw a giant painted Auburn tiger on the wall of a gas station. Drove in, said hi, set up studio lights right by the pump and shot it.

His birthday was a marker in another way for me, as well. SI contacted me the other week and told me they were building a special feature about Bo’s fiftieth on, and could they use my archived pictures—for free? The gentleman doing the arranging for the feature was quite a decent sort, and did his best to explain that the biggest sports magazine in the world had no money to support this article. I was sympathetic. As a lone freelance photographer with a mortgage and kids, I’ve experienced that condition myself, more than once. I demurred.

Time has certainly flown for all of us….more tk…





Kris says:

on December 10, 2012 at 6:54 am

Well, it’s certainly nice to know that magazines are using the “We have no budget for pictures” with EVERY photographer and not just the ones getting to grips with the industry…

Cracking shots, still remember Bo when he was famous for breaking baseball bats over his knee. :)


Don Toothaker says:

on December 10, 2012 at 7:29 am

I agree with Kris who posted above. This is a great piece and very certainly newsworthy given Bo’s stature as one of the greatest, if not THE greatest athletes, ever. Too funny to read that Sports Illustrated, the biggest sports magazine in the world, has no budget for such a worthy SPORTS story – how much did they spend/afford/budget for the swimsuit issue? It is nice (sorry!!!) to know that being taken advantage of is not limited to us lesser known peeps!

Don “Tooth”

shea says:

on December 10, 2012 at 8:20 am

This is beautiful. No, Sports Illustrated, you can’t have those for free. This is where I will come to see pictures of Bo and when Joe tells me something I’ll believe him because he has earned my trust through his photographs and stories.

I hope you are able to make money through this blog, Joe.

Joseph W. Nienstedt says:

on December 10, 2012 at 8:36 am

At a certain point, we’re going to have to change the way we deal with magazines. They aren’t willing to pay, so we need to change our compensation. Sure you can use my photos, in exchange I’d like some ad space to use any way I choose. The 6pt font credit that’s lost in the spine of the mag isn’t going to cut it.

John Nelson says:

on December 10, 2012 at 9:58 am

Apparently they have enough money to hire someone who has the gall to ask Joe McNally for free photographs. The sad thing, some other photographer is probably going to do it.

DQ says:

on December 10, 2012 at 10:04 am

i think all of the comments on here will be about the FREE part… mine too.

as a much much less visible freelancer than you, Joe, i deal with this question regularly, and i’ve been shooting about as long as you. “it’ll be good for your exposure!” “we’ll give you credit of course!?”

there was a cartoon in the New Yorker Mag (i think it was there) recently, where folks are being asked to go on a ‘dangerous mission that will almost certainly mean death. but it will be good for your social media visibility.” i paraphrase, perhaps ineptly. but you get the point.

it’s hard out there, ain’t it?

i wonder if they will come back to you, joe, with a few dollars. unbelievable.

JerseyStyle Photography says:

on December 10, 2012 at 10:28 am

I’m not going to get into the “can we use these for free?” That’s the business end.

My recollection of this story is being about 14. Reading this story about Bo Jacksonin Sports Illustrated and being amazed by this guy. For some reason, the article – and images – really stuck with me. Fast forward 17 years or there abouts (and I wonder if Joe remembers this)…I’m working one of my first corporate comm jobs, and we had hired Joe to do some annual report shooting for us. One story focused on a young boy, a soccer player, down in Tampa. I’m with Joe on shoot (because, see, I’m the company guy) and Joe and I are shooting the breeze during some down time. We start talking sports and, for some reason, Bo Jackson comes up. I say to Joe “I remember reading this great article about him in SI…and there was this one pic, of him jogging on the Auburn campus with some girl…”

Joe looks over at me and says “Yeah, I shot that one.”

I was incredulous that the long and winding road of my life brought me to be there with this guy who shot an image that I remembered 17 years later. It’s not Joe’s greatest shot by a long stretch…but it’s what resonated with me, way long before I even picked up a camera.

The power of the image as I always say.

By the way, check out the ESPN 30 for 30 on Bo Jackson. Fantastic.

Bo knows a lot, but he don’t know photography.

Joe Knows.

~ mark

Justin Van Leeuwen says:

on December 10, 2012 at 10:30 am

Yeah, but did they offer you photo credit?

Dennis Hoover says:

on December 10, 2012 at 10:43 am

” I demurred. ”

I hope there was some hysterical laughter proceeding the demurring! No budget!? Oh please…

Mongo Only Pawn In Game Of Life.

All the best Joe.

Dave Barnes says:

on December 10, 2012 at 11:57 am

What a great coincidence! I just saw YOU DON’T KNOW BO
Directed by Michael Bonfiglio on the ESPN 30 for 30 show and felt like I really got a nice look at what Bo was like. And now to add your personal touch on top of that… just fabulous. I’m happy you posted your shots. And much like Bo did to Tampa, you held your ground for what is “right”. Well done.

Mike Lyons says:

on December 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm

To be honest I had to look up “demurred”. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to watch and hear your actual reaction and objections to SI when they asked to use your photos for free. As you live in New York state I have a few preconceived notions on how that phone call went or what happened after the phone call was over. I thought that stuff only happened to photographers that were starting out. Once again you have inspired me photographically as well as with your words. Thanks Joe!

Barry says:

on December 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Great story. Some things have changed, some remain the same. Bo Jackson was and apparently still is a class act, and so are you Joe. Thanks for so many great stories this year. Look forward to more great stuff next year.
Happy Holidays.

Paul Glover says:

on December 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Next time anyone asks what the word “chutzpah” means, I’ll point them at this post and say “Sports Illustrated”. :)

This isn’t something he’s gonna be able to find on Flickr for “exposure” and “credit”…

Jim Meyers says:

on December 10, 2012 at 2:59 pm

How about we just stock to getting decent rates. Who will you be advertising to in five years when noone is buying photos anymore!?

Chuck Rehdorf says:

on December 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm

My goodness, mean old photog… won’t let super slick multi-million dollar mag use your photos for free… the nerve of that greedy World Famous Photog! By the way, umm, next time you’re in Sacramento, would you mind if attended another one of your seminars? But this time on the house?? (Joe Rocks!!)

Doug says:

on December 10, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Though I did see ESPN used and paid for that last image.

John Swanson says:

on December 11, 2012 at 12:04 am

Good on you.

Shame on them….

Andrena says:

on December 12, 2012 at 2:12 am

The guy at SI got paid to ask you to let SI use your images without pay. And that’s just sad.

Andy Chubb says:

on December 12, 2012 at 3:03 am

I am flabbergasted. I thought that sort of thing only happened to the newbies. To hear of it happening to Pros like Joe who have been shooting for SI etc for so long is amazing. Too often now, newspapers who are feeling the pinch of the digital age and are laying off staff offer no money for a picture, just a by-line.
Hope this isn’t the way of the future – hey, Joe McNally is giving us his stuff for free – so should you!
Perhaps the Mayans were right, the end of the world is nigh.

Andrew says:

on December 12, 2012 at 8:33 am

Bo Jackson is my favorite athlete of all time. It is great to see all of these photos of him before he went pro. You really captured him well. An impressive first assignment for SI.

Matt says:

on December 12, 2012 at 9:41 am

A studebaker. Hahaha. Great line.

Rick Lewis says:

on December 12, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Great Blog post Joe! I can’t say it any better than anyone above.

I also have to join the chorus of disbelief that, especially SI, would ask for free images. I truly wonder what the media landscape will look like in 10 years. It’s just sad.

Thanks for the good read Joe!

Tim Srigley says:

on December 13, 2012 at 8:05 am

I’ll leave the business part to others Joe, I just want to say how much I enjoy your storytelling. Even without the pics, this post is worth reading several times. You da man!

Nestor says:

on December 13, 2012 at 8:49 am

WOW time really flies. I remember I was in college and all the ads on tv and on magazines were of Bo. He was the athlete of that era, Nike sure knows how to promote their athletes. After him I guess nobody made it that big on different categories of sport at one time.
As for you Joe, you are my inspiration and model to became a better photog each day. Happy Holidays.

Tom says:

on December 15, 2012 at 5:43 pm

No, this isn’t something which just happens to those photographers who are just starting out. I’ve been in the business almost as long as Joe and I can tell you I field more calls from people wanting stuff for free than from those expecting to pay. Free pictures in exchange for “exposure” just leads to more requests for the same. Sadly, the real reason this happens at all is because too many photographers believe the lie. We have brought this upon ourselves.

Jim S says:

on December 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm

In all of my 68 years, I’ve never seen an athlete of Bo’s abilities before. He possessed amazing talent for football, baseball and track and could have played collegiate basketball as well had he chosen to. Yes, there were other great running backs but none, including Hershell Walker possessed the variety of talents that Bo did. I’ve seen him do things on the baseball, football and track fields that both amazed and impressed beyond belief. In my book, Bo ranks up there with the greatest to ever play the game and perhaps THE greatest.

Mark says:

on January 3, 2013 at 9:12 pm

They want your work product for free? What gall. What chutzpah. What balls.

But they way the publishing is heading, I’m surprised they didn’t just use it without asking. Try do it all the time.

Awesome work, Joe.

Tonia says:

on January 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Wow, Bo is 50? So many interesting men are turning 50 and don’t look it at all. I’m chuckling to myself remembering all of those “Bo Knows” commercials that used to flood the
boob-tube. Man, I’m getting up there too. Cheers Joe! Happiest of New Years!

Jeff Walton says:

on January 9, 2013 at 11:23 pm

I’m an Auburn fan so this article really hit me. I can’t believe Bo’s 50, but I can’t believe my age either so I suppose it makes sense. Thanks for sharing!

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