My picture editor at the National Geographic sent me this picture the other day. It was sent to him by a long time colleague, who came upon this scene in a public bathroom. On the toilet is what we have come to call “The Red Book,” here at the studio. It’s a lighting brochure I did for Bogen where I employed the services of a leggy, beautiful Kazahk model for three straight days. This picture was accompanied by the following text:
I want to be among the very first to congratulate you on this remarkable new multipurpose product.
The new McNally “Moment I Come” autoerotic aid and bathroom tissue, all in one handy package, promises endless hours of very personal and private fulfillment. And, using high-recycled content paper, users will have the additional satisfaction of knowing they’re being “kind to the earth” even
as they’re being…well….kind to themselves.
In a time where major national magazines are dropping like flies in a bug zapper, its heartening to know this kind of inspired creativity continues, promising literally dozens of dollars of revenue over the product lifecycle.
Way to go Joe. You’ve got this, as they say “in hand.”
None of the above is surprising, or disturbing. Which may be, in effect, disturbing. I leave that for wiser heads to decide. Its just my old buddy Bill, best man at my wedding, editor of 8 major stories I have shot over the years for Geographic, bending his incandescent intellect in, well, a different direction.
Where’s Rodney when I need him?
Shot this many years ago, a five minute backstage portrait session. But with Rodney, it was always the right five minutes. His rubber face was ready for the closeup.
I’m no stranger to Bill’s jousting, of course. We have been friends a long time. Nowadays, when time allows, we have a phoner during his morning commute we call “the morning rant.” Topics range from the general disrepair of the photo industry, to the antics of government, to the wild and woolly state of things in the new millennium.
The momentous event of the passing of the centuries drove a couple of stories Bill conjured and then hung around my neck, much like a farmer might throw a sturdy yoke around an ox, then sit down in the cart and expect to go somewhere. Around that timely time, we did a story on the globalization of culture, and another, modestly titled, “The Universe.”
Both were corkers to do, and a lot of fun. (Its all fun in retrospect. At the time, Bill referred to my efforts at space photography as “The Universe Death March.”) He wanted me to do the globalization story very badly, as he well knows my psyche is a loosely connected pastiche of pop culture, bad movies, comic books, and celebrity magazines. By contrast, he doesn’t get out much, and his idea of a raucous evening is to drive his Prius out to the rolling hills of Virginia and after a meal of organically raised free range chicken breast and strained carrot juice, curl up with his favorite monthly magazine, The Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. He really did a Nat Geo story on nanotechnology. During this period, I remember calling him and asking how the story on “really small shit” was going.
I really wanted to do the Globalization story because research indicated at that moment, Baywatch was the most viewed television program on earth, and I was gonna be sent to Will Rogers Beach in LA to check it out. Purely, of course, in the interests of journalism and the subsequent advancement of peoples everywhere.
Truth be told, that may be the only story I really ever substantially contributed to the enormous database that makes up Bill’s brain. On virtually everything else we have done, I must confess, by the start of the story, he’s got the Ferrari of his intellect already in the passing lane of the interstate, while I am fixing a flat on the jalopy of my noodle, back over on County Road 213. He is remarkable in the depth and breadth of his interests and knowledge. He’s one of them, as that tribe of children said in Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome, “that’s got the knowin’. (See why he hired me for global culture?)
He’s also a helluva editor. Even though we are close friends, he has no problem taking off the buddy hat and putting on the dispassionate, “why the f**k did you shoot it this way?” hat. He is remarkable in his faith in the process of picture gathering, knowing full well that all photogs run themselves into innumerable rabbit holes during the course of a coverage. He has patience that the story will turn in our favor, and is willing to be steadfast during some of the rough sledding that inevitably accompanies any assignment undertaken. I’d love to say it all goes like clockwork out there, but it don’t.
He also allows me a tremendous participatory role in the editing process.
Here, he is showing me the one I’m going to like.
And, he has no problems telling me when my pictures suck, as they quite often do. His favorite phrase for a photo of mine that is going away forever is, “Joe, this one’s going to Toledo.” My apologies to folks in Toledo, cause there’s evidently a suburb out there filled with my shitty pictures.
I’ve shot a lot more bad pictures than I’ll ever shoot good ones. I’m quite comfortable admitting this. I have always been compelled by my time behind the camera, my love of actually shooting, no matter if I win, lose, or draw. And boy do I lose a bunch of the time. Every shooter does. The ones who tell you they are always knockin’ on heaven’s door when they take a camera in hand are bullshittin’ ya blind.
We all shoot bad stuff, good stuff, in between stuff. It’s the stuff of the photographic life. Failure is part of it. No shame there. If we knock it back all the time, or feel like we do so, then we’re not trying. As I always say, if the feeling of been there, done that, nothin’ new here, I’ve seen it all, let’s move along overtakes us, then its time to hang the cameras up. Then we can go inside and become editors!
Kidding, of course. Direct, constructive, dispassionate criticism are essential for any possibility of growth as a shooter. Without it, we are lost, and our interior compass loses any true reading or direction. There are photogs out there working who have evolved beyond criticism, of course. They have become their own outsized brand, big as Cheerios, pricey as Prada, and knowing as Dr. Phil. Think Oprah with an H2.
Anytime you got people thinking that the finger on the shutter is the finger Michelangelo’s touch of God was modeled on and the pixels jamming through the USB and splashing onto the Apple Cinema display in the studio should produce rapture amongst the natives on a scale of offering a virgin to the Kong–well, that’s a problem.
These folks should just spend a day with Bill. Highly recommended.
Cause this is hard to do, right? Day after day, you come back without a great or even good frame. I’m reminded of the conversation betweeen Tom Hanks and Geena Davis in League of Their Own.
Jimmy Dugam: “Baseball is what gets inside you, it’s what lights you up. You can’t deny that.”
Dottie: “It just got too hard.”
Jimmy: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”
There’s a lot of analogies between photography and baseball. Ray Fitzgerald of the Boston Globe wrote, “A critic once characterized baseball as six minutes of action crammed into two-and-one-half hours.”
Sounds like a photo shoot to me.
The picture up top is courtesy of Lynn Johnson, who quite simply is one of my favorite people in this industry. If you don’t know her work, you should. Lynn is a remarkably compassionate, direct, connected photojournalist. We have all been to photoj conventions, you know, where you occasionally hear from the podium that, you know, “I spent a few minutes with the family, and they began to trust me and I was able to move around like I was invisible.” Okay. That happens I’m sure. But I must confess, when I do hear stuff like this, occasionally I heave a bit of an inward sigh.
Not so with Lynn. She really does that. I have watched her work, and seen the results. Always, as I said, connected. Always honest. Always sympathetic to the human condition. She, as a photographic persona, remains in the background, becoming a remarkably transparent vehicle for real life to transfer to very real pictures on a page. She has my absolute admiration. The highest praise I can ever offer another shooter is, “I wish I had shot that.” Lynn’s shot a bunch of those.
Except, maybe, this bathroom snap. This one I might have passed on:-)
Or not. Ya gotta be able to laugh at yourself, at this industry, and at the machinations, peccadillos and affectations of those who labor in it. Personally, if I don’t laugh about 10 or 12 times a day at all the crap we have to slog through to participate in our current, motor driven version of cave painting, I would simply start crying.
And, as we all know, there’s no crying in photography. More tk.