That was 2009, certainly. About 260 days on the road, another Geographic story notched and published, another started for this year. Blessedly, another year behind the camera. Ups and downs, a few good frames, lotsa bad ones, another camera update (hardly a yearly event, more like bi-monthly) and, instead of another file cabinet with hanging slide sheets, a few more terabytes of storage. Cameras became like cars–hybrids. Tweeting now, and saw the Facebook thing turn the word “friend” into a verb.
Finally sold my Contax G2 rangefinders, so now, really, don’t officially own a film camera. Yikes. Kodachrome officially closed up shop. Indirectly, I guess I had a hand in it. I was one of 3 photogs called to a lunch meeting by Kodak in 2008. The question was asked: If we stopped producing Kodachrome, would you miss it? Awash in the quality of digital, I had to answer, “No.” But, I still have about 10 bricks of it in the freezer. Old habits die hard. I shot so much Kodachrome over the years I could take a brick and strip it out of the yellow boxes and plastic containers and into my shooting vest in about 60 seconds. I like to think that skill would stick with me, even if I was smitten with amnesia on assignment kinda like that guy Jason Bourne, who could still strip down and reassemble a Glock even though he couldn’t remember his name.
Time passed, and so did some people, sadly. A tough moment this past year was the passing of Frank McCourt, he of the wonderful use of language, and the indelibly Irish humor. Made the picture of Frank in a bar in the west of Ireland.
There was a big window and a little window. Main light, fill light. Shot it quickly, in the midst of more than one or two rounds, and it remains one of my favorite portraits. Which figures, because Frank, who I got to know on a photo trek to Ireland, was one of my favorite people. We began our relationship by bantering back and forth with good nature about the relative workloads of photographers and writers. He wryly observed us as a passel of lumbering beasts of burden, bristling with lenses and toting bags of machinery, and wondered out loud about the silliness and excess of it. I countered with the observation of the comparatively easy life of the writer, who can ply his trade with a pencil and a pad of paper.
Underneath all this lighthearted repartee lay the simple fact that I was pretty stressed. Reason? In a pocket of my bag was a small Tiffany box. At the end of that week, Annie and I would take ourselves off for a weekend in Dublin, and I was going to ask her to marry me. I was nervous about a lot of stuff, like losing that box, or having Annie find it, or if it might be raining when I popped the question. A litany of potential disasters loomed in my imagination.
Frank and his wonderful wife Ellen were also heading for Dublin, and all four of us went bar hopping and music listening (they go pretty much together in Ireland) on a Friday night. Now having Frank McCourt guide you through the bars of Dublin was pretty special indeed, and it was made more so by the fact that, while Annie was in the ladies’, Frank and Ellen became the first to know that the following morning was the morning in question for the question. It went well, obviously, and the reply was in the affirmative. I sent them an email that said simply, “She said yes.” They sent back an equally simple one. “He did it!”
They were gracious enough to come to the wedding, and, after I gave a brief speech, Frank came up to me and gave me a note he had written on a dinner napkin. It is framed in our bedroom. We both miss him, even though we rarely saw him, as his enormous capacity for wit and wisdom made him a world traveler. He embraced life, love and good fortune and enjoyed all of them immensely. The only thing that makes me smile even slightly at the thought of his passing is the certainty that heaven got to be a funnier, more erudite place.
Ted Kennedy moved on. His campaign for president was one of the first I ever covered. It was very new to me, all the competitive hubbub, but it was certainly exciting to be covering a Kennedy. Made this at the NY convention.
I remember making the pic. Behind and above, sort of in the cheap seats, yet again (sigh) where I wasn’t supposed to be. F2, 400mm F2.8, tungsten Ektachrome push one stop.
2009 marked the passing of Marty Forsher, the wizard of 47th St. From his obit in the NY Times…
“For more than 40 years, Mr. Forscher ran Professional Camera Repair Service in Midtown Manhattan. Founded in 1946, the shop was a Mecca for generations of camera owners, from the world’s most celebrated fashion, advertising and news photographers to wedding portraitists, threadbare students, bejeweled celebrities and anxious tourists.
Though renowned as a repairman, Mr. Forscher was perhaps best described as an armorer. For if news photographers were foot soldiers in the fight for social justice, as he long maintained, then he was intent on equipping them soundly. As a result, many of the seminal events of mid-20th-century history â€” World War II, the American civil rights movement, the Vietnam War â€” were recorded in part by cameras he had repaired, donated or adapted.”
To go stand on line for service at Pro Camera was to hang out with friends. It was a social call as well as a service call. Marty was always there, and from the front counter you could watch all the guys tinkering away, with the guts of a camera spread out on the table in front of them. It was like being an observer at a surgery. Very cool.
What was even cooler was not what Marty repaired, it was what he made. I still have my Forscher Polaroid back. The post screwed into the bottom enabled you to tripod mount the rig if needed.
The Polaroid back permanently attached to the back of your 35mm, and the image translated through fiber optics to the Polaroid film plane. If you pulled it right, you could get two 35 size instant images on one sheet of Poly. For me, the best way to glean detail off such a small positive was to use a maglite and reverse an 8x Agfa Loupe and minutely inspect it. (Other uses for an upside down Afga Loupe? They make a pretty good shot glass:-)
The real Marty twist to the camera above? See the additional flash sync port just below the lens release button, camera right side of the lens mount? I was so desperate for rear curtain sync back then, I brought this FM2 into the shop and Marty drilled a second sync for me into the camera body. It was specifically wired to fire at the close of the shutter. At that point in time, to get logical flash blur, I was asking people to walk backwards, drive in reverse, you name it. Just to make the blur locate behind them, where it’s supposed to be. The alteration to this camera cost more than the camera was worth, but it became my go to body for flash work.
Another year passed. I got a year older, though no wiser ’cause I remain, stubbornly, a photographer. Annie got more beautiful. (How does she do that?) Thankfully, more tk…..
Mark Olwick says
Wonderful post, Joe. Thanks for sharing.
Ronan Palliser says
Fascinating story Joe, and surprised and somewhat chuffed for my current home town to hear you chose Dublin in which to get engaged. Love reading the blog. Keep the more tk-ing!
bryan lathrop says
I dunno, Joe, not only do you pass muster as a world-class photographer, but you scribble some infinitely readable and entertaining verbiage yourself. Thanks for keepin on. May your 2010 kick ass, hoping mine does too. Cheers
David L says
Great stories, as usual, but I have one plea: don’t just leave the Kodachrome in the freezer! Shoot it, sell it, send some to me, whatever. Just don’t let it go to waste. After December 2010 it will probably become impossible to get it processed.
John A. says
All the best for you and your family in 2010! Thanks for sharing your wit and wisdom and I’m looking forward to another year of blogging …and maybe another book? 😉
Bob Pruitt says
Great read Joe!
Nice story on this snowing morning in KY
Hope you meet you guys some day.
Craig Ferguson (@cfimages) says
Lovely post to review the year. See you in Malaysia in a few weeks.
Annemarie Mountz says
Joe, thanks for allowing us to stroll with you down memory lane. I always enjoy reading your posts. However, I must take issue with your remark that you’ve not grown wiser. Sometimes, when I’m in the midst of the fray, I wistfully recall my days as a staff photog, and part of me longs to be back in those trenches. That’s probably the reason I still shoot so much, even though it’s not part of my job description. So I think you have grown wiser, precisely because you remain, stubbornly, a photographer.
John Sturr says
Great write up — burn baby burn !!
Lewis W says
Thank you, Joe. Happy New Year.
BÃ¶rje EnsgÃ¥rd says
Thanks for sharing all things that you do and thoughts that you have.
I was moved by reading about Frank McCourt.
I have read your two books from cover to cover and enjoyed every word.
Looking forward to the next 365 with you, Joe!
Jim Frazier says
Beautiful stories. I think a little of Frank rubbed off on you. Have a happy and prosperous 2010.
Great review of the year Joe, thanks! Love hearing the story of hanging out with Frank McCourt here in Dublin. Time for you to teach here in Ireland – we could put you up and pay you with Guinness 🙂
Bernard Walsh says
Hey Joe, (sounds like a line from a song), just wanted to be first to publish a comment – all the way from Ireland by the way.
Joe – wonderful piece about your close friendship with Frank McCourt. I was just reading in “The Hotshoe Diaries” about your Nikon with the second sync plug so its nice to see a picture of the rig. I also have an old Agfa Loupe – although I never thought to use it as a shotglass! I’ll have to try that, soon.
John Scherer says
One of the nicest retrospectives on 2009 I have seen Joe. Sorry for your losses, Frank McCourt, what a great story about him. I think we have few opportunities in life to make friends like that. I have a few and gladly they are still around.
I never met Marty Forsher. I once sent a Wista 4×5 field camera to him for “modifications” He seemed like someone I would have liked.
Blessing to you and Annie.
Again, anytime you make it to the Minneapolis area, give me a shout. I’ve got a bottle of Scotch…
Kevin O says
It’s all about the journey and the people you meet. Great stuff Joe, as always.
That’s a really nice story about Frank as I’m a Dubliner photog and a big fan of Angela’s Ashes.
If you ever make it back over this way Joe you’ll be warmly welcomed.
Tim Boyles says
Joe, you are not only a great photographer, but an incredible writer. It shows in your books and also in your blogs.
I’m sure Frank McCourt knew it too and was probably one of the reasons you became friends.
He respected you, not only as a man, but also as a colleague.
Mark Holloway says
Very cool story. I love the McBlog.
Mick Buston says
What a lovely, honest, refreshing post. Thank you.
Great recap of the year. I got engaged in Ireland too! It was outside the small town of Gort in Western Ireland. A couple of cows were there to witness it.
I also wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation at Photoshop world in Boston last year. I hope 2010 brings you continued success.
Wow your FM2 there is pretty cool.
Do you wonder when you pass on what portraits of you people will use? What gear they will talk about? What adventures they will share with others for years?
Tommy Bjoerk says
Oh Joe… I think Frank McCourt would be proud. You are not only a poet with your spectacular images, but you also have a really good way with words… I can’t thank you enough for all the wonderfull things you do for all of us aspiring photogs, here on your blog, and elsewhere. So, thank you, and let’s make 2010 a good one!
Loved the comments on Frank McCourt. I only heard him speak once, but it was magical and I felt as though a friend died. How amazing to have him as a true one. He was a great teacher.
Clayton Pearlstein says
I have been enjoying your photography (and just as much so your writing) for about the past year or so. I really appreciate your blog and specifically this post as it is a neat peak into a couple of lives including your own. I hope to have as many stories and as much skill in photography some day. Thank you for inadvertently (or not) me in that path through your books, blog, images, and videos. May God bless you in the new year.
Clayton Pearlstein says
I have been enjoying your photography (and just as much so your writing) for about the past year. I really appreciate your blog and specifically this post as it is a neat peak into a couple of lives including your own. I hope to have as many stories and as much skill in photography some day. Thank you for inadvertently (or not) helping me in that path through your books, blog, images, and videos. May God bless you in the new year.
Joe – Love your post. You’ve kept me sane during an extended period of unemployment. That has turned out to be a great meditation into my photography. Thanks.
Love reading your posts… But what does more tk mean. I see it on all of your blog posts.
You know, you’re starting to get sentimental in your old age. Great stories.
Question: “… after I gave a brief speech, Frank came up to me and gave me a note he had written on a dinner napkin. It is framed in our bedroom.” We’re missing an important piece of information… care to share what he wrote?
Sarah Kavanaugh says
Still have my F4s. I take it out once in a while, put batteries in it and make sure it still works. Why? Dunno. Oh, probably b/c it was my first real camera.
john fowler says
God bless you Joe. Thank you. Here in Ottawa some of us drink Jameison.)
I worked with a photographer in the fall of 2008 who used the same Polaroid rig! I admit at first I thought it was some sort of cost saving trick to get 2 frames on a single sheet.
Eric W says
Great post, Joe. I always love reading about your past encounters – it’s like a living book!
Sorry about the losses over the year. It’s a bit sobering how the pace picks up so quickly…
Alex N. says
I don’t know you. A friend pointed me this way because Frank McCourt was my high school English teacher, my inspiration, and for 25 years, my friend.
’tis a lovely portrait of him – both the one you created with your camera and the one you created with his chosen medium. Frank had a great eye for little details and I think if had not been a teacher and a writer, he might have taken the photographer route. In some ways that profession was done in by his remarkable memory. If Frank wanted to see something again, he could cast his mind back and see it. The rest of us have to content ourselves with other means… words and pictures.
Thank you for sharing your time with Frank with the rest of us.
Beautiful… and your photos are really inspiring.
It is important to remember the good things about those who are gone. To remember and to make more memories with those we still have with us.
Wonderfully written. You make me want to explore the world with a film camera.
Thanks Joe. Posts like this help me realize that whenever I want to be as good as you, I should be willing to invest as much time and energy as you have.
Jesper Elgaard says
Been following you quite some time. Truly inspiring.
Have a great 2010 and if you ever come by Denmark, I’ll give you a tour.. 🙂
Keep raising the standards!
Kind regards, Jesper Elgaard.
Bill Bogle Jr. says
and she said yes.
For all of us who have married up, we know the worth of those words.
You where a whirlwind in 2009, and you took us along for that breakneck journey. 2010 sounds no different, and we look forward to joining you along the way.
Thanks Joe for all that you do and how you share. Here’s to the 28th floor we call the Internet.
Bill Bogle, Jr.
Jeremy Sale says
You’re a stand-up guy, Joe. An inspiration to us all.
There’s a cold one waiting for you in Toronto, if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Another great blog Joe. I really enjoy the way you can tell a story. See you in Vermont this year.
Dave D. says
Great post! Thouroughly enjoyed it. Loved Frank McCourt’s observation of the photographer, “…as a passel of lumbering beasts of burden, bristling with lenses and toting bags of machinery, and wondered out loud about the silliness and excess of it.” Nicely done.
David Zappa says
Very deep Joe. Made me feel next to you while shooting… thank you.
Randall Hull says
Eloquent and touching.
Thank you Joe for your brilliant posts filled with beauty, both visually and verbally.
Chris Davis Cina says
You always touch my heart and soul with your photographs and your words. Great portrait of Frank McCourt and it makes me smile to think of the two of you hanging out in Dublin’s bars.
I lost my father last month and am just beginning to realize what effect he had on my photography – always my biggest fan – always had ideas for how to make me better. Your retrospect gave me a chance to remember him as well as another very special person taken from us. I hope he’s singing his Irish songs up there with Frank.
Thank you so much for all you share with us.
great post Joe, the image of Frank McCourt is awesome. And if you don’t know what to do with your Kodachrome, I’ll take it. I’m finishing up 12 rolls for a project, 12 more won’t hurt as long as Dwayne’s will develop it…
Film has been a part of my life since I was 17 and I’m too oldand stubborn to give it up entirely. I like my digital, but there’s nothing like holding a siver gelatin print in your hands. (oh yeah, there is that smell of fixer)
Linda Brinckerhoff says
As always, you amaze me with the appreciation you have for the people in your life. They are so lucky. You are so lucky. Thank you for making such lovely word images as well and for reminding us to stop and smell the roses.
Great Joe … excellent reading. Great image of Frank. Let’s look to 2010 with excitement. Lewis
One can’t be a humanistic shooter without being humanistic. So true for you. Great moving story Joe. Thanks for taking the time to tell it.
Carol Lundeen says
Joe, I know what you mean about remaining, stubbornly, a photographer. The camera is a like a way to shake hands with a stranger. And then the stories flow.
“Finally sold my Contax G2 rangefinders, so now, really, don’t officially own a film camera.”
If so, what happened to your Forscher-modified FM2? I hope you didn’t sell that piece of history…Wonderful tributes to those three men in this post, Joe. The light on Mr. McCourt in that picture is ethereal.
Thanks for sharing, your writing is so real, I felt like I knew those people.
Another Dave says
Firstly I enjoy receiving & reading these.
I like the way Ted separates from the background of banners & placards.
To an outsider from downunder he seemed more than spin.
’09 has been an exciting year for photography,I became the owner of a D700 & an E3 which is a long story.Frank McCourt’s description of photographers & their gear struck me as lately.
I am carrying less & using more film than before.All the best for the New Year.
There must be a plan for the film in the fridge.
Sorry Joe, I wrote a mistake 🙁
I work for you as assistant in 1989 !!!
Here’s to 2010 …. another year in the trenches 🙂
Rick Lee says
Oh gosh… I forgot about pulling that tab out just right to get 2 exposures on the Forscher Polaroid back. I loved those devices. I still own one, but of course I never use it since my test shots now take less than a second to develop. I work in a small market and most people around here had never seen one. It distinguished me as a “serious” photographer.
Billy Mitchell says
Joe, I trust you are wiser.
Irene Jones says
You’re a rock star Joe. I love your blog. Passion, Prose and Photography all in one place.
Michael Reinhart says
Paul F says
I think a little bit of Frank McCourt must have rubbed off on you. Your writing always makes me feel like your talking to me. Thank you for your posts, whit and wisdom. Don’t stop.
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P Deasy says
Love the picture of Frank McCourt, first saw it in ‘The Moment it Clicks.’
Love the site layout you have going on here! I could do with employing you to do my website!