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Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Random Thoughts in the Cold

Jan 3

In Seminars & Workshops, Thoughts at 4:12pm

Thankfully, this year will start pretty much the way last year did–with the Digital Landscape Workshop Series in the cold of Yellowstone Park. It is magnificent. Hell, even I got a couple of decent landscapes, but that was mostly cause I went over and stood by Moose.These jaunts are terrific for me, cause I get to brush up on my wildlife biology. Did you know bison use their overlarge head as a snowplow in winter months to push aside the surface snow and get to the vegetation underneath?

Actually, me in the wild is ridiculous. I can spot a creep or a weirdo three cars away on the NYC subway, but out there I’m frikkin’ clueless. I looked up last year and the whole staff was waving at me, desperately gesturing. A bison had walked up behind me and was close enough to pick my pocket. This horned beast bigger than a mini-van just strolled up beside me while I was like, checking my white balance or blowing my nose or doing some other nerdy, East Coast, big city, pansy ass flatlander bullshit . Thankfully, he was uninterested, probably cause I had been wearing my snow pants constantly for about three days and smelled bad. After he walked past, I looked out at Moose, standing on the road. He just closed his eyes and shook his head.

I’m looking forward to it. Maybe we’ll have the same driver! I tell ya, wheeling around in a six ton snowcat with somebody as psychologically brittle as the ice in the trees adds zest to the day. We had a couple brothers out with us last year who were both docs, and they sat directly behind me. After one particularly harrowing slide around the back roads, complete with narration, I must have looked very worried cause one of ‘em reached around and patted me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Joe, we’ve got the hypodermic ready.” I hope they signed up again.

Hey, how about that Kelby guy? Has he got connections or what??!! A custom made Nikkor 14-24 f2.8 lens with VR! Talk about having your cake and being able to hold it steady while you eat it!

Scott was joking around of course, and the lens don’t exist, but some folks kinda took the news and ran with it. It re-convinced me of a couple of things….A) the power and reach of Scott’s voice in this industry, and…B) the passion folks have out there for digital photography. Pretty cool. Got me to thinking.

If I could custom design a camera, what would I put in there?

First, it would be called the D3Z Transformer model, or something like that. It would have the voice of Optimus Prime and at the start of each shoot, his rich, reasonable, impassioned baritone would beseech the subject: “Give this worthy photographer time and access to do his good work upon which the fate of many hangs.”

I mean, who wouldn’t listen? If they didn’t you could switch to “Vader Mode” and the camera would start to emit aqualung type noises. A far more sinister voice would then intone: “I find your lack of enthusiasm disturbing.” The camera would then send out some sort of sonic infrared radio signal that would constrict the subject’s air passages. I mean, they figured out how to send flash exposure information wrapped around light frequencies, surely they could figure this out. Talk about useful technology.

It would have—Custom Menu Function M3—This is the  “NOT THAT LENS, ASSHOLE!”  custom function that activates automatically whenever you are about to make an irretrievably stupid lens choice. I would hear this often.

It would definitely have “The Moose Peterson Move.” This would cause the camera to stop and make a beautiful picture out of something you just walked past and didn’t see.

I would attach the blinking highlight warning to an air raid siren.

The grip on the camera would be wired to read my pulse and blood pressure, and it would also have audio sensitivity so that my muttered utterances which currently simply bounce quietly off the lcd and disappear unrecorded into the air are actually duly noted and metered for stress in my voice patterns. If my pulse or BP spikes, or I complain too much about the situation, the light, the time, the fee, or my own ineptitude, a voice from deep within the camera quietly but firmly says, “Remember Joe, you said yes.” Thus admonished, I continue to shoot.

It would have a very selective function button called the “Celebrity Tool.” You could only apply it to certain subjects who have, you know, potential. This would lighten and coif the hair, maybe trim a few pounds, smooth out the skin, automatically turn the photo vertical and slap some appropriate tabloid magazine logo on it, like, you know, “Starrzz with Buzzz!” In a sub-menu of this move would be a variety of add-on or design options:

Insertion of an incredibly cute puppy.

Selection of splashy, eye grabbing pull quotes, such as…”____Speaks! I’m Still Pissed!” Or, “Available Now! Space in My Womb!” Or perhaps an inflamed admission: “_____to _____ : It’s The Bodyguard’s Baby!” Thus packaged, it would then be dispatched wirelessly to your agent who could possibly pass this person off as “the next big thing.”

Right next to the RGB selector in the new color menu would be an autofocus mode called GWB…means the camera will focus on nothing.

I would also request a sports version of this highly advanced picture making machine that would include:

Custom Function “Brett Favre” -An auto function. Whenever you make a good frame, the camera runs around and slaps you on the butt, shouting “Way to Go!” Being whacked on the ass is vastly preferable to what is generally happening back there to most photographers in the current business climate.

The “Plaxico Burress Default Mechanism”-This is a locking device that initiates whenever you have it slung over your shoulder, dangling at your hip. It prevents the camera from accidentally shooting your leg. (Good thing Burress didn’t shoot himself in the ass, he’d have brain damage on top of everything else.)

*********************************

Lessee….hey, if you want to start your New Year off right, have a laugh, be photographically enlightened, and look at pictures that leap right out of a very spring loaded imagination, go to Drew Gardner’s website and blog.

As they say in England, positively “mad” not to mention “brilliant.” Drew is based in London, and shoots and teaches everywhere, including good old Maine Photo Workshops and over at GPP in Dubai. He has categories on his site, like “Epic Fashion,” which perfectly describes his approach and invariably involves beautiful women, dangerous men, funky teenagers, all manner of woodland creatures and an entire array of barnyard animals. He also has the audacity to have a category called “eccentrics.” I pinged that and expected a self portrait.

He’s unstinting in dispensing his considerable knowledge, a genius at controlling huge shoots (fashion models and wild animals, what could go wrong?) and a hoot to boot. He’s also a good guy. I know this cause he tolerates my antics when we teach together. Last year in Dubai I tried to light a room by bouncing an SB800 off his bald pate. He was very patient, even though he got a little sunburned when I went to manual 1/1.

Check out the K-Man who almost took the plunge with a bunch of Jersey Polar Bears who ran into the Atlantic Ocean for charity. Cool post, and nice shooting. Photographers. We’re crazy, right? The manual says don’t get the camera wet, and we just don’t listen.

I’m always shooting my own stuff, but might try for some sort of personal project stuff this year, along the lines of Mark Seliger’s pictures in his elevator shaft thing. I’m thinking about, “Pictures from Under my Porch.” There’s a lot goin’ on down there, I tell ya.

I jest of course, though a buddy of mine, Aaron Ansarov, started a project called “In My Backyard” which has taken on a life, literally, of its own and the last news I had, a piece of it might run in the National Geographic. As I always say, the best pix are right there in front of you.

Hope some real good ones will be in front of all of us in 09….

THE BEST ASSIGNMENTS ARE FREE….

Dec 15

In Thoughts at 11:12am

They are gifts we give ourselves…..

You already know the ones…the ones that really terrify you. The ones you think you can’t handle. The ones you think are way, way, beyond your capabilities. Gateway assignments. The ones you need to take. They come in on the phone (rarely) or in the email of your imagination as loud as the “TERRAIN! TERRAIN! TERRAIN!” warning in the cockpit. You must respond. You must engage.

Increasingly, these are the ones you give yourself.

On the other side of that job, win, lose or draw, you will be a different photographer, and presumably, absolutely, a better photographer. Like a redwood, you just accumulated another ring. You could liken it to a scar, the way things go in this business. I try not to think about it.

But here’s the beautiful thing about scars. They are on the surface. Not attractive perhaps, but at the end of the day, inconsequential. They don’t affect your core.

Someplace at or near my core, I’ve got this fortress. It is well fortified, and I don’t let anyone in there. No tedious editor, no residue from a soul blasting job, gets in there, ever. Cause inside there lives whatever makes me love doing this as much as I do. Dunno the why’s and wherefore’s of it. I don’t unwrap it or turn it upside down and shake it, trying to figure out what’s inside, cause I might break it. It is what makes me hold my breath at the camera, makes me curse my mistakes and short circuits of mind, will and body, and gives me the recurring nightmare that I am swimming underwater and when I try to break the surface I find it is glass. I can’t break through and I am breathing water and jaysus-be-jaysus where the hell is the next good frame? Why can’t I figure this out and why haven’t shot anything worth a good goddamn in the last bit of forever? Is this the end of the road and the limit of my talent? I wake up in a cold sweat.

Nice, huh? The miracle of photography, sitting on your chest in the middle of the night like a big wet dog, panting in your face, demanding to be fed.

Like the boxer in the song, photographers remember every cut. I certainly do. (It’s just that way with the Irish.) Those cuts are the jobs, the frames. I can remember what I said before and after certain rolls went through the camera. I can remember what I had for breakfast that day and whether I was just shy of 5.6 at one twenty fifth. I can remember the smells in the air, and just how miserable, elated or terrified I was. Often, I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but those are yesterdays I didn’t make a picture.

Ironies abound for photographers. They are occasionally huge and cruel and we either laugh them off, smile through our tears, or are crushed by them. Some are small and produce rolled eyes and a sigh. We are on assignment to shoot the CEO, but we come up the freight elevator. Our work adorns the hushed hallways of corporate palaces even as our demise is plotted and graphed. The rakish, insouciant legacy of a Robert Capa and the derring do that produced those pictures that are the stuff of our collective memory is celebrated and paid lip service, but hey, wait a minute, look at these expenses! That was then fella, and this is, well, now.

Or, we attend a photo gathering where a picture editor exhorts us from the podium to step it up, work harder, get to a new level, and push the envelope. Then that picture editor goes into closed door meetings at their shop and advocates against raising the day rate.

I am the last staff photographer ever, at LIFE magazine. I didn’t get that mildly undesirable title by doing anything in particular. I just kept shooting assignments, and then they fired me. Later, the magazine did its final, absolute death spiral. Like Santino in the Godfather, it took a lot of bullets, but it finally went down for good.

Round about that time, the Time Warner colossus was seeking to “build a bridge to the visual community.” and instituted the Eisie’s, a prestigious series of awards in honor of the legacy of Alfred Eisenstadt. It was determined that LIFE would be the host and sponsor magazine, much to the dismay of TIME, then the big budget gorilla of the photo world.

During my brief tenure at LIFE, I agitated to do stuff, as all of us do. One result of my agitation became a story the mag called “The Panorama of War.” It won the first Eisie for journalistic impact.

I found myself on stage, at a gala hosted by LIFE, accepting a LIFE sponsored award for a LIFE assigned and published story. Mildly ironical problem, though, as I stood there, prize money and the paperweight of the award in hand, was that LIFE magazine had fired me the week before the ceremony. I chuckled inwardly as I smiled at the podium. I even smiled at Norm Pearlstine, the boss of the whole deal, who was sitting in the front row, looking for all the world like he was in a dentist’s chair. I actually felt bad for him cause he had come over to run Time Warner from that sea of type known as the Wall Street Journal and had never met a picture he understood. Here he was at a photo banquet, fer chrissakes, and later, he had to give out the most important award of the night, and thus make the longest speech. He had a terrible time pronouncing “Sebastiao.”

So it goes, and it always has. We are on our own. Whether we are on assignment or on staff or on Flickr. Whether we are making a buck or winging it, unfunded and unfazed, on the increasingly threadbare seat of our pants. That’s as it should be. Trust me, When it comes to corporate belt tightening, housecleaning, and general neutron bomb keep-the-building-lose-the-people cost cutting, we are both the baby and the bathwater. We get thrown out. They will never understand that picture gathering cannot be plotted on a chart, estimated in a graph, or measured in people hours relative to numbers of units produced. Thank God. If they ever figured it out, and really understood the astonishing alchemy of it all, they would want to be us, and trust me, there’s already plenty of us.

One of my heroes is Frank Hurley, the shooter on the Shackelton expedition. He was one tough nut of an Aussie. When their ship, the Endurance, got locked in the ice, he stripped down and dove into the frigid hold to retrieve his plates.

Hurley “is a marvel,” wrote Frank Worsley, captain of the Endurance. “With cheerful Australian profanity he perambulates alone aloft & everywhere, in the most dangerous & slippery places he can find, content & happy at all times but cursing so if he can get a good or novel picture. Stands bare & and hair waving in the wind, where we are all gloved and helmeted, he snaps his snaps or winds his handle turning out curses of delight & pictures of Life by the fathom.”

As Shackleton said, “What the ice gets, the ice keeps.” The Endurance was doomed. The crew was stranded. Hurley kept shooting.

The ever prescient David Hobby just threw a big rock into the pond of our psyches. Lots of ripples, from Chase Jarvis to Moose Peterson, to Vincent Laforet to the gang over at Sports Shooter. Just like a couple hundred photographers at the exact same location will produce a couple hundred picture points of view, there are lots of opinions out there, from “Yeah, that’s the deal,” to “Is he crazy?”

Not crazy at all, methinks, and that’s not to say we should all apply for non-profit status. I think what David is talking about, really, is not dollars and cents but growth and direction as a photographer, increasingly an isolated task, as the more collective staff photographer experience withers and dies. My advice to young photographers has always been to join the staff of a newspaper or wire service. Get some editor on your case, putting your ass on the street and your eye in the camera everyday. Come back to the wet darkroom to soup your stuff with the rest of the shooters and kibbitz, compete, spin tales, drink beer and give out shit. And listen. And learn.

That is increasingly anachronistic advice, of course. Digital has changed the deal, and the curves in the road upcoming for all of us are steeper, sharper and many aren’t even on the map yet. More so than ever, we are on our own, crafting a path unique to our skills, intentions and career goals. Take a look at Doug Menuez’s recent musings on career path.

A career in photography is a journey without a destination. And really, do you think someone’s gonna buy you a ticket to someplace you can’t even point out on the map? Try writing “meander” on a travel requisition and see how far you get.

I’m not suggesting you don’t need to make money as a shooter. Far from it. But those pictures we get, the ones we keep close, the deepest cuts, if you will, are really of our own volition and making. And those are the ones we seek and need, or better, the ones that seek us. They are way stations. You will stop there, or need to stop there, no matter if someone is paying you or not.

Cause what we are talking about here is food for the table and food for the soul. You gotta sell your stuff. You gotta pitch clients. You gotta make some dough with that fancy machine you have in your hands. And there is no problem with that. It is in fact, a very honorable and wonderful feeling to make your living with a camera. Trust me, I have shot all manner of jobs. I’ve shot for clients I shouldn’t have worked for, just to keep the studio alive. I’ve shot bad deals just cause I wanted the pictures so bad. I’ve shot wonderful jobs that have pushed me personally and professionally. I’ve even gone to photo heaven. In the last couple of years I’ve worked for a client whose art director is a wonder, the people running the show have become like my family, I’ve been treated fairly and I’ve expanded creatively. And, along the way,  I’ve shot jobs so thoroughly mercenary that in my head I don’t hear the whir of a motor drive, but the kaching of a cash register. Its a wonderful sound. It means I will be able to keep that camera in my hands a while longer, and extend a little further, reach a little deeper, and stay the course. What an amazement! I got paid to do that which I love!

Many pictures I shoot nowadays have only me as the client. They are pictures I need to do and want to do. I fund them myself. Did one last week in Vancouver. Wanted to work with a dancer, so came in early, rented a studio, paid an assistant and paid the dancer (I always pay the dancers, they work just as hard as we do and make even less) and shot some pictures I really like. When I finally get home I’ve got a studio, six square feet of chrome diamond plate flooring as a backdrop, a smoke machine, some heavy gauge chain, a battered chainsaw, and a physical trainer whose endearing nickname is “The Pain Chisel” all arranged for. Can’t wait.

I could gin up a portfolio of fancy flying, dancing, body bulging, glam type pictures and bring them to one of the stylish, au courant type magazines, and they would laugh me out of the building. I’m realistic about this. For better or for worse, I grew up shooting for mom and dad’s magazines–LIFE, National Geographic, Time, Sports Illustrated. At a place like Vogue or Esquire or GQ, I couldn’t get arrested. At one of the hipper men’s magazines, a book I’ve shot a couple covers for and a couple years back knocked out a fashion piece involving the U.S. military (which they liked so much they expanded the story from six to ten pages) I had to go in and show my book to the new, thirty-ish photo editor. He liked my stuff and was very respectful. As he closed my portfolio, he looked at me and said, “You’ve had a great career.”

In other words, “I’ll hire you for an editor’s note picture if I can’t find someone else at the last minute.”

Okay. Picture editors at places like this are relentlessly searching not so much for good pictures, but for buzz. Occasionally, good pictures and buzz coincide. Tough thing is though, even when they are able to stuff good pix into their mag, it is so graphically cluttered (the printed version of a sound byte) you can’t really enjoy ‘em anyway. Hell, lots of times you can’t even find ‘em.

Will some of these pictures I pursue on my own ever sell? Dunno. Never been much of a stock shooter cause my stuff has been so assignment specific. I get sales reports now with my pictures turning around eye popping amounts of remuneration, like a recent one I got from a prestigious bastion of publishing erudition for all of $4.67. Jeez, never thought a stock sale wouldn’t even get me into the movies. Shit, that one won’t even get me one of those big boxes of Raisinets.

I get a check like that and I either laugh or cry, depending on how many days I have left to pull together the mortgage. I look at these picture statements and I feel like a kid in a Cape May arcade who just turned about $50 of cash money into a clutch of “admit one” tickets that gets dumped into the counting hopper and spits out a chit that allows him to pick out anything in the shop that’s worth less than a buck.

This is not a good business model. My accountant on occasion has mentioned my endeavors lean more towards “hobby” than profession. Okay. The numbers don’t add up. Pretty much, I’ve never added up either, even to my parents.

We run when others walk. We work when others play. We adjust our schedules to accommodate theirs. We present the flimsiest of reasons to insist that we be allowed to keep doing that which we need to do, something for us that is as necessary as breathing. Paid or not, it is what we do.

By the way, at the age of 76, Frank Hurley came back off assignment, and shrugged off his camera bag and sat down, saying he didn’t feel well. He was dead the next morning. I suspect there was still film in his holders.

More tk….

Things to be Thankful For….

Nov 30

In Thoughts at 11:50pm

Anybody who knows me a little bit knows this is my favorite picture. Its my oldest daughter Caitlin, about six months old, trying to walk. She couldn’t quite get the hang of it right then, but trust me, she already knew walking was where it was at. She saw that people who could walk could get places faster, and she was definitely interested in that, even as a tyke. Heck with this crawlin’ shit! I’m gonna walk!

Wasn’t too long after this she indeed was walking, and very soon thereafter, running. She has pretty much lived her life (she’s 23 now) with the pedal to the metal.

Much to her old man’s consternation. She has had, well, a tumultuous early life, let’s put it that way. She pushed the envelope, her’s and mine, and we have had some tough, angry times. But its not all on her. (Never is, right?) I’ve been a here and there dad, being a roving photog. We used to use the term “magic daddy” sometimes when she was small. She would go to bed and I’d be there, and wake up, and I’d be gone. Or vice versa. Sometimes when I would be home, I really wasn’t. Tired or distracted, we’d snuggle for a bedtime story, and once, I just said, “You know, sweetie, dad’s so tired tonight I don’t think I can get through even one story.”

She reached over a tiny hand (she was about two) and patted me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry daddy, just do the best you can.”

I put alot on her, of course. Between being gone, and also kind of making her my daughter and my son. Got her scuba certified when she was 12. Took her on her first night dive three dives after her cert. Trust me, when the ocean gets inky black, it can freak even some experienced divers. She was unfazed, and fascinated.

She rode a horse like a bat outta hell. Coming back from camp, she allowed that she had won the competition where you stand on the horse’s back, barefoot, holding the reins. I didn’t really want to know. She once broke her arm snowboarding, and sawed off the cast after about a week cause it was “bothering her.”

She kind of just knows. She can sit at the tiller of a boat and know how to drive it. I let her drive my pickup on the NY State Thruway and points everywhere when she was 15. (Yes, its true. I’ll never be the cover subject of Parenting magazine.) I put both her and her sister Claire on a dog sled years ago for a joyride and Claire got seriously cold. Caity opened her jacket, untucked her shirt, took Claire’s boots off and stuck her sister’s feet next to her skin, and then just folded herself on top of Claire. She just knows.

She’s a pretty good grip. She can handle a c-stand and ratio a pack. She’s been to the Eddie Adams Workshop at least seven times. But she has no interest in photography. She kind of grew up in a photo hothouse. Her mom is the DOP of the New York Times. Her dad is, well, her dad. She has chosen a different path. Can’t say as I blame her.

But she’s a tough kid. Cool under pressure. She’d be good to have in the foxhole with you when the chips are down.

Two days before Turkey Day, she was leaving her boyfriend Ryan’s house early in the morning, and she hit black ice. Her car slid right off the roadside where there should be a guardrail and plunged down a 40′ ravine, rolling over twice. It came to rest upside down. Caity was left hanging in her seatbelt, also upside down, and covered in blood. She was lucky to still be conscious. There is no sight line from the road to the ravine, and no one saw her go over. She could have easily bled to death at the bottom.

She unbuckled her belt. And was collected enough to grab the oh shit handle above the passenger door and with both feet, bust out the passenger window. She clambered back up to road, still spilling blood everywhere. She doesn’t remember walking back to Ryan’s house.

At the hospital, she got 3 stitches in her hand. All her cranial wounds were left to close on their own. Cat scans were negative. She was stiff and sore, but told me she was thinking of going to work that day. Wiser heads prevailed.

As I told her tonight, maybe the best genetic gift I gave her was a hard head. I’m very thankful for that.

More tk….

The Javits Center

Nov 2

In Seminars & Workshops, Thoughts at 6:56am

Photo East was great. It always is cause I see lots of friends and colleagues I never get to see, and I had some good classes, but man, was it busy. There were folks sloshing around everywhere in the Crystal Palace of the Javits Center on the far west side of Manhattan. It really sits there like a space ship in the middle of kind of the only stretch of streets in NY, NY where there just ain’t much of anything else. That’s why I guess they can get, you know, like $5.75 for a bran muffin. Hey, some fiber in your diet’s worth it.

Whilst wandering through the swirl of ones and zeroes mixing it up in the Javits ozone, I wondered how many PPE folks might recall the guy the place is named for,  Jacob Javits of NY. A tailor’s son who became a Senator, he was by all accounts a devoted public servant, a champion of civil rights and a remarkably decent man. He helped shaped NY and its future with intelligent stewardship, moderation and common sense advocacy, traits tough to find in the political hubbub of today. I don’t claim to have known him, but I did photograph him, in his waning days, those days when a case of ALS was inexorably gaining the upper hand. He fought the disease with grace and dignity, two traits that marked his political life.

Shot it in 1984, when I was really still a pup shooter. I can remember the light at camera left, a Norman 200B with a Chimera 3×4 softbox, Nikon F3 camera. I remember him being affable, though he really only communicated with his eyes. He was nattily dressed for the photo, though I suspect he always was, photo session or no. His silk neck scarf partially hid the respirator tube he depended on at that point. He attempted a smile here and there. I worked alone, and quickly.

The photos I shot that day won’t stand the test of time. In fact, they already haven’t. Average snaps of an above average man, encased in plastic slide pages for over almost 25 years. But I remember the day, and the man, and that human intersection that occurs on a photo assignment. I remember my battered 200B, very dependable, and the equally dependable F3, with its distinctive shutter noise. I remember, too, back then and now, the sense of boundless possibilities that start dancing in my head, most destined to go unfulfilled, whenever I pull a camera out of a bag. The adventure begins! Sometimes it ends gloriously, sometimes rudely, sometimes not at all, and sometimes with me just about begging for it to be over. This one ended simply, quickly, quietly. A job, nothing more.

But it reverberates, every once in a while, in my head and surely no place else, when I wander the Javits, past the memorial sculpture of him and his office chair, and then into the aisles, where in the midst of jonesing after the latest in high speed circuitry and supergig flux capacitors, I think of a small slice of a day in a life long since gone. For me, this has always been about stories, and memory.

My personal hero and mentor, Carl Mydans, former staffer at LIFE, impressed this on me. During a lecture, he put up a picture he made during the Cuba missile crisis of a U.S. destroyer forcing a Russian cargo ship bearing missiles to turn around on the high seas. The picture, by all measure, was average. A record frame from the air of two boats in the water. Then Carl, in his stentorian, made for radio voice, read from his caption book. He described the weather, the time of day, the hum and crackle of the radio transmissions, the stern voices heard on the ship radios, indicating there were to be no compromises, turn around or be sunk, the faces of the young servicemen with him watching tense history unfold a few hundred feet below them. Carl, whose book, Photojournalist, is a must read, described the completeness of the moment, down to the wind in his face, his exposures and lens choice, and this simple photo of a crucial pivot point of our time, all in his Bostonian accent, clear and authoritative.

(Carl grew deaf in his later years, so that amazing voice grew correspondingly louder. The day I was fired at LIFE, I bumped into him right at the juncture in the hallway where the business side and the edit side of LIFE joined. It was of course, a business side decision to ax a great deal of the edit staff. Carl grabbed both my arms in his hands and told me in no uncertain terms how despicable he thought all this was, how unnecessary, how short sighted, how etc. etc. My smile grew wider and wider as he grew more descriptive about the greedy bastards, because I knew those words and that voice were echoing all the way down the hall and into the oblivious sanctums of those who only see numbers.)

In the fog and burble of the Javits Center, I can still hear his voice.


Notes, Thanks and…. In the Beginning, There Was Greg….

Oct 22

In Friends, News, Thoughts, Upcoming Events at 8:41am

Lessee….bunch of stuff….this just in, from David Hobby….many thanks to him from one half of JoeBob….me and Bob Krist did have a punch up on the new 900 video, and we’re thinking of doing a tag team guest appearance now on WWE;-) I loved Joe Bob’s reviews. Just loved ‘em. My kind of movies always scored well, in other words, those kind of movies where stuff blows up, the women are as fast and sleek as the cars, and there is a subtle exploration of the nuances, depths and shadings of the human condition…you know the kind of movie I’m talking about….sort of a “Harold and Maude Meet the Killer Bugs from Ice Planet X” type of thing.

David’s onto something with that chainsaw. I think I’ll put it in my cargo bags, and it’ll be the first thing I bring out on location when I get to someone’s house. Kind of an ice breaker, ya know? More on that tk…

Many thanks to Scott Kelby for the mention of the Geographic cover story this month. I’ve shot for the yellow magazine for over 20 years now, which is wild to think about. For me, it’s just humbling to share ink with folks who have gone before, like Jim Stanfield, Bill Allard, Sam Abell, Jim Richardson….list goes on. More on adventures with Wilma, our striking cover subject, in blogs tk.

Ahh, location work. Shooting the spread above, we slid into a Spanish national park at sunrise, because it offered the only glimpse of the type of rocky terrain Wilma and her cohorts most likely experienced in their day. The cave where they found the new Neanderthal DNA, about 30 klicks away, is now surrounded by deciduous forest. I was a tad nervous, as we unloaded things, cause we did not have a permit to shoot in the park.

I’ve snuck into more places and shot pictures from more spots that I ain’ supposed to be than I can remember. Nothing unusual about that. Most photogs wouldn’t have a portfolio to show if they actually listened to the word “no.” And there are lots of folks out there with the word “no” already teed up on the tips of their tongues. I call ‘em the walkie talkie assholes. Give somebody a 3 week course, a flashlight and a walkie talkie, and they can ruin your day. But I digress.

I was more worried about the light. Sunrise was not looking good. Pulled out an Elinchrom Ranger pack, which is my field light of choice. Gelled it warm and slapped a tight grid spot on it. Made some decent pix, but there was no rationale for this warm golden light hitting Wilma’s face, while the rest of the world was obviously gray.

But I should remember this morning the next time the light don’t work out, but, being a photog, I probably won’t. A slice of sunrise came through a break in the Eastern clouds, and hit the rock face behind Wilma. It was all I needed. I got about 10 frames and we were done.

Then we decided to move Wilma and give it another go, as it were. She is, well, not a delicate flower. She is 200 pounds of silicone wrapped around a steel frame. The best way to lift her is to circle round back, crouch a little bit, throw your arms around her ample pelvis, and basically give her a good, hard shag. Up she goes off her pedestal, and then you can trundle her, rather ingloriously, wherever you want.

We were in the process of doing this when around the corner came a patrol car with two Spanish National Park rangers in it. “Hola!” “Yes, she is naked!. But she’s not real!  No, its not what you think. See? She’s not inflatable!” The whole thing had to have looked hinky and kinky at the same time.

Luckily, one of our party spoke fluent and evidently persuasive Spanish, and engaged the officers while I told Brad to take the shot cards and put ‘em someplace the sun don’t shine. We were allowed to leave, along with Wilma. I miss her, actually. When she was wrapped back up in bubbles for her drive back to the Netherlands, it was quite emotional. I told her it would be alright. Even if we never see each other again, we’ll always have Spain.

Photo East is coming up, and the toy warehouse will be spilling all over the Javits Center in NY, with widgets, gadgets, biddybops, thingamawhooziewhatzis, fast glass, smart cameras, whopper hard drives, and a lot of yakkin ’bout pictures. I’ll be doing some of it myself, teaching small flash on Thursday morning, doing a couple stints in the Nikon Booth, and signing some posters for Epson.

A word about Epson and Dano Steinhardt. I ain’t exactly Moose Peterson, JP Caponigro, Jay Maisel or any of these kind of master printer/shooter guys, but Dano continues to be an enormous source of faith and support for my studio, year after year. He is one of those guys who stays in the background, facilitating photographers, showing them the latest and greatest Epson stuff that in turn makes their stuff look great, and all the while, one of the best kept secrets in the industry is that Dano is one helluva shooter. He makes incredibly beautiful imagery out of things most of us walk right by. I think the key here is seeing photographs. He sees. And then he distills all the jumble and cacophony that attends just about any walkabout of modern life into clean lines and stunning symmetry that makes sense, not to mention beautiful pictures.

Same thing can be said about Kriss Brungrabber and Mark Astman of the Bogen Corporation. Their commitment is unflagging in support of photogs, and photographic education. If we decide to do something together, we do it on handshake, and its a done deal. Good people, and Mark in particular, who has been out on a bunch of my workshops, is a striking presence as a photo subject. Sort of a William Holden who knows everything about Elinchrom flashes:-) I’ll be hanging in the Bogen booth a bunch, with my buds Bill Frakes, Drew Gardner, and of course, Moose.

Strikes me a whole bunch of the yakkin’ about to occur on the West Side of NY is gonna be about light, and lighting, which means flash. Hmmmm…..interesting thing, this flash stuff. Lots of folks playing with it, yanking it around, trying different stuff, myself included. It’s all good, some of it is even really good. But it gets me to thinkin’, always a dangerous thing.

I really feel alot of the conversations about flash and light we’re having nowadays wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for Greg. When I say “Greg” I mean Heisler. To me, he’s always been one of the one name photogs, up there with Annie and Avedon.

Greg changed the way we all see. He burst onto the magazine photo scene in NY, oh, about 1980 or so, trotting out Norman 200B’s, gels, camera work and color that popped our eyes, stopped our hearts, and made for legions of imitators, myself included. He started working for Geo, LIFE and doing annuals for outfits like RCA (Remember that name? Remember the dog and the victrola?) and doing special projects like Day in the Life Australia.

His take outta the land of Oz just flat out flattened folks. He brought to the pages of that book color and drama that had legions of experienced shooters looking around and going “Wassup???” And of course the next question was, “How do I do dat?”

In the years since, Greg has shot about a bazillion TIME covers, and done it all, from the movie lots to the halls of state. No one has done it better, or with more panache and versatility. He single-handedly changed magazine photography by introducing a “look” (I might call it style) that all of sudden re-directed the missions of magazines and editors everywhere.

Olympic athletes have been one of his fortes. I’ve been involved with Olympians to a degree as well. You know, every four years, you get a call and start working with these amazing athletes. Its been fun to do.  And every four years, like clockwork, I have had my ass kicked. I would shoot somebody, think it worked real well, and then Greg bombs into town for a day, no less, and leaves with this ass kicking TIME cover. Frustrating. Maddening. Inspiring. Head shaking. In a word….Greg. A look see at his website is a must.