I was literally up to my ass in alligators not too long ago, on behalf of Kelby Training, attempting a video tutorial on location lighting in first, a swamp, and then later on a beach, in decidedly non-beach-like weather. Doing the Kelby videos is a lot of fun, and they have gradually (actually, more like, suddenly) amassed the greatest compendium of video learning and teaching on the planet about anything visual–Photoshop, lighting, digital photography, you name it. But this was a frustrating day, one of those location days where you barely find the corner, much less turn it. I’ve had many of these during the course of spinning the roulette wheel of photography for thirty years. On these days, which I still find eminently preferable to a predictable, safe, or even good day inside an office (do they exist?) a certain brand of patter bubbles out of me which, in some quarters, might be deemed profane. Offensive, even. Downright saucy!
Yeah, guilty as charged. I could blame my childhood, but that’s so Hollywood starlet. I could blame excessive use of pain killers, but I’m a photog, and that has its’ own special brand of pain, yet to be tamed by pharmaceuticals, so I actually don’t use those haze inducing pills, pleasant as they sound. (I would, actually, if I were regularly in an office and had to go to non-stop meetings. For those in that type of an unfortunate setting, I think any and all mood altering substances should be legalized. Think of it as an occupational version of medical marijuana.)
Basing my career in NY has definitely had something to do with it. (There I go, lamely blaming my environment.) But in a big city press room, having your own personal quiver of verbal arrows was essential to survival. I mean, without a customized, creatively ornate, almost baroque sense of the profane insult, you were defenseless out there on that ink stained field of battle. You had to get with the program, or get gone. I mean, when you work the copy rim with a bunch of dirty old men whose sole mission in life was to slip a seemingly benign headline with obscene overtones past the managing editor on a daily basis, you get the message real quick. I remember a news short coming in that was the story of an evidently extremely lonely soul who was arrested for assaulting, ahem, his neighbor’s cows. Seems the dairy farmer, seeing his charges act a bit out of sorts, tipped police to his suspicions about what was going on with Daisy and Buttercup out there in the barn, and they staked the joint out and arrested the dude in, as they said in the piece, “mid-assault.” The rather ordinary headline of “Sodomy Charged” on this story was subsequently changed to “Cowpoke Arrested.” I don’t think that head made the paper.
I was pretty timid when I started, but I was shocked into the swim of things quite early on. I remember working the international desk as a freshly minted copy kid, and watched when one of the editors, obviously hammered, cigarette drooping from his lip, saunter up to his station in the middle of the newsroom, unzip his fly, serenely urinate in the waist basket next to his desk, then sit down and edit the 2 Star. Then of course there was Zucci, in the art department, who would take all the bridal announcement pictures and airbrush in cleavage before they got printed in the paper. He would walk these black and whites around the newsroom, proudly displaying his artwork. “Poor girl,” he would say, “Only time in her life she gonna be in the paper and she got nuttin’ to show for it!” He fixed that, and I’m sure many a shocked, prospective groom would do a double take on the day of the nuptial announcement, wondering how his bride to be had all of sudden acquired an enormous set of hooters.
In photo, it got savage, at least on occasion. When your negs would go up on the screen for edit, guys would walk by, look, and inquire, “Whose shit is this?” This was nuanced commentary, mind you. I was touring a bunch of blue haired ladies through the darkroom once, and Bobby Hayes, one of the printers, and a former Marine who had seen action on Iwo Jima, turned to them to politely explain why he didn’t use the air gun with the ionized tip in his print station to clean the negs. “I don’t wanna get fuckin’ sterile,” was his explanation. Needless to say, I walked the ladies briskly over to take a look at the print washing area. Then of course there was the photog on the staff who was roundly disliked by many in the department. When this shooter would call in a job on the two way, other shooters could hear it, and they simply opened their own mikes and started barking like dogs over the air. Brutal.
You developed a thick skin, and sharp elbows. I had an editor at UPI who could say the f-bomb more times before pausing to breathe again than any human being I have every met. The fact that most of those expletives were directed at me, and my obvious lack of abilities and intelligence, bothered me not. The use of language was so creative, I simply stood in awe and appreciation.
So there ya go. Product of my environment. I’m depraved ’cause I’m deprived. Or something like that. I mean, stuff happens out there on location, and sometimes to verbally get your arms and head around the events, it just seems that a creative metaphor, or a pithy rejoinder is the way to go. Sure makes the day go faster. I am given pause when this brand of language makes it into my public teaching stints. I’ll stop, look over at Drew, and say something like, “I shouldn’t have said that, huh?” He generally sighs, and agrees. Oh well. What the fuck….more tk….
Alex Weltlinger says
A phrase I recently picked up from a colleague is c*nting bollocks. It’s damn good to say that with a vengeance when something you thought was right goes very very wrong…
Ah Joe….. I love these tails, what make them funnier is they really happen. I’ve worked with similar characters in different industries. I’ve got such a big grin on my face reading this I’m afraid the top of my head will just flip over backwards and I’ll find myself looking at my ass, not for the 1st time in my life….. or the 2nd come to think of it.
Thanks for sharing these wonderful, magical stories, I just love them. They give your pictures a good run for their money for sheer entertainment value.
Keep smiling, take care.
Johnny Flip Top Thompson
Ian Mckenzie says
And here’s me thinkin it was only me who on the odd occasion let fly!
“having your own personal quiver of verbal arrows” – pure gold.
Andrea Livieri says
😀 …nice blog post and amazing place to record a new video! Joe Rulez \m/
Tyson Murray says
Joe your awesome. It doesn’t matter to me what adverb you use. I’ll always look up to you as one of the greatest photographers ever! Keep up the good work.
Each day, I regret more and more I didn’t fly to a city to see the flashbus tour.
It’s my goal in life to see Joe in person someday.
Jeremy Sale says
You’re a class act, brother.
I remember in film school, an otherwise erudite prof ran my film through the Telecine as he wiped it with a cloth he produced from his pocket.
“Don’t want a c**t hair to pop up, do we?” he said, with a slight smirk. “No sir,” I believe was my response.
You should develop an “ADULTS” only course, It would be a rip!
LOL Funny. The real side of Joe? Thx for sharing the ‘finer’ moments of your shoots.
Sonny Baker says
Thanks for numbing me a bit before my day of meetings. :/
Rock on you salty dog! I kinda wish you’d been more saucy at TFB ATL, because this is the authentic Joe McNally – not the stuffed shirt Joe McNally. Probably would not have been conducive to learning with all the laughter though.
Curtis Thomson says
The wonderful power of profanity . . . I learned mine in the United States Navy. Please don’t let them censor you Joe. You’re “colorful language” is part of what makes your approach to photography so unique.
After spending 25 years in the newspaper business I can concur with you Joe. Back in the day if you didn’t have or develop a thick skin, that was not the environment for you. Even with all the profane language, bad attitudes, mediocre pay I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Trading stories with you one day would be a riot, with a few beers thrown in.
Joe, F#@*i^g excellent!
Mike Mahoney says
I’m with Ken, an “adults only” class would be fabulous!! F**ckin’ A!! Joe, your photography skills are well known, but I enjoy your writing skills just as much! Keep it up!
Linda Brinckehroff says
Interesting stories – close to what I experienced as a check-out and meat wrapping girl working with all the butchers at the A&P – only they had knives. Joe, Your fans are begging for an autobiography…. Better do it now before the brain cells start atrophying.. -Linda
Greg Lepera says
I’d like to think I played a minor role in getting you comfortable on your belly with a bunch of gators!
Enjoyable read. Even more enjoyable watch.
Always knew your class, style and creativity were shuffled with a card or two of humility and humor. Just didn’t your deck had an extra joker – of the sailor sort! Thanks for showin’ yer hand. 🙂
Michael Roberts says
I know what you mean Joe. I still do some freelance work for a local newspaper. My editor is the best guy you could ask to work for but on a bad day he can use the f-bomb as a verb, adverb, noun, adjective, pronoun and somehow a conjunction all in one sentence – never at anyone in particular – just to the air around him it seems. I started accusing him of having Tourette Sydrome after I heard him do it a few times. We had a good laugh about it. It’s best not to get uptight about such things. Words can only hurt you – or offend you – if you let ’em.
Frank Burch says
Joe I gotta tell ya, “I find your language surprisingly luminous!”
Michelle H says
I remember seeing this at Midnight Madness at PSW and you were laughing just as hard as the rest of us. 🙂
jim frazier says
Yep…I like the idea of an adults only seminar series.
I think being in any creative industry you should be given creative leeway with your use of vocabulary. But that’s only because I too tend to say the most “obscure” things.
Greg Howard says
The video was f*&king awesome. That is all.
gregory peel says
Haha! Glorious stuff.
Flash/Bus Tour…what a great IDEA …! Thank you guys for the amazing experience in
( Madison )
You are an inspiration to so many people!!!!!
See you next time!
Jim Cutler says
I like to think of it as, “We work in profanity, the way a sculptor works in clay.” (Gene Shepard)
Doug Evans says
First, the video really made me laugh! I’m so glad you share these little bits here ‘n there! No matter how depraved or saucy you feel – the nature and timing of your pearls are the punctuation mark of passion for what you do. …And, often funny as hell!
Enjoyed the piece very much, the article helps me realize not all my fuck ups are for nothing. …Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.
Bummed I missed the NYC flash bus gig! Need my dose of inspiration, laughs and learning… The future…
Zurina Bryant says
All I can say is – you controlled yourself very well with the Asian crowd! 😀
Jay Mann says
Thanks for the laughs early this morning, as I prepare for another day in the office.:) The 7-5 is a necessary evil so I can finance my photog addiction. The fact that I can see the jungle outside my window makes it a little easier.
The language is contagious, after the week in Iceland, I was visting my mother who commented that my language was more colourful than usual….. I blamed you.
Am enjoying Indonesia, have hooked up with a local photog group, lots of talented shooters here. Not too many speak English, but “Photo” is universal.
Ken P says
What a potty mouth, Mr. Numnuts!
@Paul – It would have been worth the strip search. Neither Joe or David let us down in St. Louis.
Matt Timmons says
So Joe, on more than one occasion you have enlightened us with what’s behind the real world of a working photographer in NY past. Is it the same now in the present? I wonder if the frankness of what was business as usual back then has been updated by the workplace rules of the present such as sexual harassment, HR departments and stress management seminars. When it comes to cussing it up, I can run with the big dogs. However when I come to NY, I wouldn’t expect that I would need to pull out my street dictionary of fight-inducing insults to the editors I’m meeting. Is there an upside to all this? Is the current work environment more PC now days or am I coming into the commercial photography world ready to shake hands and say, “First of all, fuck you mutherfucker. I ain’t impressed with your shit talking, small-dick, stressed-out, nicotine-breath, psychiatrist obsessed, loser-ass, desk job drone self. Now that we’re clear, let’s talk photography.” Joe, I hope that the upper echelons are cool people and I can just be my normal, professional self with them.
Still chuckling over “Cowpoke Arrested”.
Ken Toney says
Joe, I see the banjo music is having some effect on you. Better be ready for the PSW Vegas Safari, we have big plans! 😎
Ken “Dueling Banjos” Toney
Don’t change a bit Joe. Those expletives are as much a part of you as your superb photography and story telling abilities. Next time I bring the camera to my eye I’m going to throw out a few F-bombs myself if the moment allows and see what I gets…
HAahahahahhaa!!! a flyin @#$% at a rolling donut!! laughin my ass off! oh i shouldn’t have said that-
“Cowpoke Arrested” was too funny! Reminded me of seeing an internal headline created from an AP wire report regarding the communities of Fertile and Climax, Minnesota. The obit headline read, “Fertile Woman Dies in Climax.”
MIchael Hesley says
Joe McNally… I thought you were dead…
Learned mine thru the Airborne Rangers… I was permanently corrupted at 19.
Traveling for a few weeks on a bus with a guy who wears shorts will make any straight-laced guy swear like a sailor in the Panama who just got back from a fuckin’ 9 month pleasure cruise with money to burn… Besides, it just wouldn’t be right to not swear when your tour is sponsored by Adorama, a nice New York City company.
Maybe you were just on the bus too long, and “things” started to look “different”… Traveling with someone who uses only manual and almost never enters The Matrix may warp your innocence… Sheesh…Don’t let your guru tell you otherwise! Swearin’ is great f**king therapy for the dull boy inside you. So, let it rip! That way nobody has to quit drinking…
I learned to swear working as a vet tech. In a job where you can get bitten repeatedly and end up covered with various bodily fluids, you get pretty creative with your language. Probably for the best that the patients don’t understand English. Compared to the chaos of that job, there’s not much that can go wrong on a photo shoot that fazes me.
Bob DeChiara says
Too $%#&* Funny!
HOPE YOU SENT SPEILBERG A COPY OF THIS
“A flying f*** in a rolling donut”? HA…. i’m crying i’m laughing so hard. Awesome.
“…taking a flying f*** in a rolling donut.”
Joe, you need to trademark that. It is pure genius. In fact, I think you need to LIGHT that in a high concept photo.
Curtis Brandt says
That’s funny, honest s&%t, Joe!
Man, I suddenly had hard slap in the face with a wet tuna.
Back in the 70’s when I worked for a Newspaper in N%# Y(%!, I would get the Saturday Night shift for the Sunday Morning Paper.
In the Sunday Morning paper were the Bridal Section with 30 or more photos of Brides and the Wedding Announcements.
Joe, there were no retouching of the brides photo in my Newspaper, but when the first addition came out, we would make out ware to the News desk and go over the Bridal section and make our selections for Bride of the Week. Hint to earn Bride of the Week, your looks could break mirrors.
Ok, now I will rot in hell for that, but I was not alone in the selection process.
Rodney Bedsole says
Joe, you’re great just the way you are…don’t change a fu¢&ing thing!
Laura Evans says
I joked around with “assless chaps” in a shoot last week – threatened to have the subjects wear them if they didn’t lighten up! That got the laughs I needed…
Calvin Pennick Jr says
All I can say is “_cking funny”.
Ken Ho says
Hi Joe ,
Are tou doing an Asian tour this year? If so, I’ll be there. Just need to equip you with some Chinese (Cantonese ) language skill. Say “dil” for the F word and ” dil lee lo mo” for ” you motherf—-ker”.
Kyle jerichow says
I recall your timeless advice to me on Day 1 of the three day workshop: “Move the fucking couch.”
And then you bestowed upon me even more priceless advice on Day 3: “When you get a picture like this Kyle, you keep fucking shooting.”
Being in the army has made me fairly numb to such language, but these two gems will stick with me for the rest of my photography days.
Geoff Dunn says
“Nude Olympians take crack at ‘best bum’ title”, Thanks Joe, you make a difference!
Another unexpected post from Joe. As always – F#*# ing A! Loved your class at Indy (Flashbus). Learned a lot , laughed a lot. Keep up the great work, Joe!
Great stuff Joe– you must keep it light.
My favorite profanity poetry goes as follows– “F*ck you, you f*ucking F*ckers.” I believe it covers the noun, the verb and the adjective in the sentence.
Jim Nooney says
Joe this post was amazing…no make that fucking amazing! Your Irish eloquence with the written (and spoken) word equals the visual eloquence of your images. May you keep rolling long after that donut falls on its side!
Scott S says
I get the visual of the flying doughnut, but I’m curious of its origins… haha