When I first arrived in NYC, nurturing faint hopes to become a photographer in the Big Apple, Danny Farrell was the dean of NYC press photography, a class act, and much respected. A shooter’s shooter, nobody was tougher when the job was on the line. He delivered. A resplendent generalist who shot it all, his particular genius was on full display at Yankee Stadium, and at the tracks, Belmont and Aqueduct. Baseball and the horses—nobody beat him. He loved pictures, and life. As good as he was, he was also approachable and decent, always up for a laugh and a beer, or maybe even a good “martooni” as he occasionally called them.
He passed away this week. I will miss that laugh, his distinctive voice, and his wisdom. We will all miss his pictures. The NY Daily News, where he spent his entire 50 year career, did a great thing this week, running a portfolio of his images. Do yourself a favor and hit this link. One photographer, with keen eyes, and an unerring touch for human moments, helped create our collective memory. Below is his most famous frame.
A year or so ago, I went to Danny’s house, and shot the below. My way of saying thanks.
In 1976, I went to NYC straight from photo school at Syracuse University, seeking work as a photog. It was a foolish act, fueled by the lack of knowing and the hubris of youth. New York, a stern taskmistress, sorted me out quite quickly.
The only work I found that was connected to photojournalism was as a copyboy at the New York Daily News, New York’s picture newspaper. They had at the time over 50 staff photographers and a daily run of well over a million copies.
I ran copy from desk to desk, got coffee for nickel tips, and delivered lunches to columnists. My connection to photos was to make subway runs, collecting bags of film from the photogs, especially the sports guys, at the stadiums or Madison Square Garden, and race deadline back to 42nd St. I took home $107 a week, lived in a cockroach laden, tiny, hotbox of an apartment. It was broken into on a couple of occasions, and I lost all my camera gear. I also lost my dad that first year in NY.
No one even thought of me as having potential to actually shoot the pictures. My job was just to run my legs off with bags of pictures somebody else shot. I would go home at night, sit on my bed in the wash of an old, oscillating fan on the floor, and listen to the traffic blaring on Broadway. The stench of garbage, wrapped in the heat of the summer, drifted through the window, leeching into the stained carpet, the sheets, even my sweat. I would sit there in the dark and weep.
It was about that time that Danny Farrell looked at my work. The fact that such a photographic luminary took the time out to look at the portfolio of a desperate copy kid was an act of kindness I have never forgotten. I was broke, running out of hope, and thinking about packing it in. He looked at my pictures. He said, “Kid, you know a picture when you see one. Hang in there.”
When I was sent to Yankee Stadium for a film run, I would race to get there early, and watch him. He shot baseball with a Nikkor 400mm f5,6, with gaffer tape arrows on the barrel, marking the focus points for second base and home plate. Audaciously, he would occasionally give me the camera and lens and let me shoot an inning. I framed up second base once, playing with the focus, and was off his arrow mark. He quickly said to me, “Kid are you sharp there?” I was not, and I told him I was just playing with the focus throw. He relaxed and nodded. “You know, I would double check myself if you thought it was sharp. You got those young eyes.” I know now whereof he spoke. I no longer have young eyes, and good AF is a blessed event, not available to the shooters of that day.
His mantra in bright sun was “A thousand at f11.” I remember one brilliant day, another photog proclaimed loudly in the photog bullpen at the stadium, “So is it two thousand at f8?” Danny said yes, but “I’d rather be a thousand at 11.”
He was laid to rest wearing a tie picturing horses, racing for the finish line, where he would have been waiting. Also, there was a Nikon camera, created of black and silver decorations. At the bottom was a banner–Always at thousand-f11.
At his funeral mass, the fine photojournalist Kathy Kmonicek made a picture of Dan’s great grandson, Braydon, saluting his great grandfather’s coffin as it passed. An amazing, spontaneous echo to mark the passing of a remarkable man.
I will miss him. He meant a lot to all shooters, but in particular the “boys” in the studio, like Johnny Roca and myself. We grew up in his shadow, learning, listening and laughing. We are better for it. A print he signed for me, of one of my favorite pictures, is treasured. Danny Farrell’s signature on a picture about the Knicks winning. Best of a couple worlds, right there.
Up where you are now, Danny, I’m sure it’s a thousand at 11. And, if by chance we meet again, it would be my honor to run your film once more.