1. It seems like you’re always traveling. Do you ever get some down time? What do you like to do when you’re at home and you don’t have to work for a few days? Does not working drive you crazy?
I do travel a great deal. It’s the life I bargained for many years ago. My dad helped me get a student credential to the 1974 Democratic National Convention, and I was awestruck. I was surrounded by veteran shooters, wire guys, and they were all conversing. “Yeah, I got this then the Olympics, then the campaign trail then the Inaugural. I’m on the road for…..” And I thought right then, this is the life I want. I want to be there where things great and small, curious and odd, momentous and cool, are happening. I want this camera to give me a ticket to the world.
Be careful what you wish for. This year, with Delta, I crossed two million miles. They sent me a thank you card and a choice of a gift, congratulating me on my “achievement.” I was happy enough with the gift but dubious about the notion that slinging my sorry ass onto a whole bunch of fast moving metal tubes with wings could be construed as an “achievement.”
Getting up at 3am, flopping into a car service and making a 6am depart outta someplace like Laguardia, which is the airport equivalent of a condemned building, is just something you do to get somewhere. You got a job, so you go. You go early in the day before the tarmacs at the NY airports start to look as jammed as the access lanes to the Triboro Bridge, and because the early morning flights are often cheaper. It sucks.
But, it’s what I do. Not working does not drive me crazy at this point, except when I look at the monthly bills. Fear is a great motivator. I’ve occasionally been broker than a church mouse, trying to hang onto the tail of photo dragon for all these years, and been knocked about pretty good. So, I love some down time, and need it to recharge, rethink, and do some conjuring, but at the same time, work remains like a dinner bell. I answer the call.
My downtime is super unambitious. Heaven to me is time at home with Annie, windows open, summer breeze, bird chirps from the woods around our house. Good takeout sushi. Bottle of wine. Silly movie on TV, Annie and I on the couch. Sammy the cat, who has basically imprinted Annie as her mother, nestles on Annie’s chest, forcing a momentary break in her legendarily continuous work ethic. My head kicks over on Annie’s shoulder. It’s quiet. This is heaven. This is not the road.
2. What’s the deal with your comic book-fueled youth? DC or Marvel? Which hero/heroes are/were your favorites? (And if you could have your own super powers, what would they be?)
I went to five different grammar schools. It was often unpleasant, being the new kid on a continuous basis. So, I lost myself often times in tales of fantasy and ancient lore, or comic book heroes, or adventure stories such as those spun by Jack London. It definitely affected the way I see the world, the way I see color, and to a degree how I sort out the camera POV. Larger than life, hero sort of stuff creeps into my work, often times. Witness a long ago cover of Vince Carter for SI for Kids.
I was resolutely a Marvel reader. Superman just didn’t do it for me. Maybe it was that the Marvel crew was always more complicated, and angst ridden. I liked Hulk, Spiderman, and the Fantastic Four. I also read a bunch of Conan. On the DC side, I have to admit I did read a lot of Green Lantern (the recent movie version was totally lame), and The Flash. I was always intrigued by these emotionally crippled or compromised characters who had this amazing thing they could do. The stranger, the better. My mother drew the line, though, when I wanted to do an 8th grade book report on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. She thought the nuns would start sayin’ Novenas for me.
I guess I would like to fly, and be able to hover. That would cure the need to rent a helicopter, or mess around with drones. It would help with the budget on some of my jobs.
Cool photo, I would have like to have your detailed descriptions like you normally do. I got the Slow Sync, perhaps Rear but hard to tell. The warm tungsten with the pink on Paloma is simply beautiful, just wondering how you lit this one. Thank You
This was a film shot that cost me (actually, LIFE magazine) $5000 before I even took the cameras out of the bag. That was the price for me to walk onstage at the Met in NY. We were after a unique look, and given that price structure, it was in fact pretty rare to see this point of view.
It was shot on 6×6 chrome, and I chose a daylight film. Hence the background warmth, which of course bleeds into the foreground coloration as well. It was a one light picture, a 74″ Octa up and to camera left. Paloma moves, and my shutter speed, being about 1/4 of a second as I recall, shows that movement, mixed in with the stopping power of flash. Part of her body ghosts so thoroughly it basically disappears. This would have been a Profoto Acute light, AC powered, 2400ws unit. (Though I’m sure the pack was not at full pop.)
And that was about it. One flash, big source, shutter drag, and we were off the stage. Pretty quick shoot. They don’t let you linger up there on those famous boards.
Keep sending questions, if there is interest. We’ll keep a list and keep answering them!
“the airport equivalent of a condemned building” – quotable & priceless
been there many times. used to be home coming. every. time.
OK – great shot of the in-flight safety video. Classic scene. Brings back memories of spending 2 days in an un-air conditioned plane in a Delta hangar in Atlanta during summer producing that video. It totally changed the way a lot of airlines do their videos. Still makes me laugh!
Joe, to contrast the “what do you do with your down time” question, would you consider a capsule version of here’s how we prep for a trip? Do you start with a concept in mind while packing, grab one of everything from the locker, or find yourself using one lens or light mod for awhile and moving on?
tom upton says
Thank You Joe. No matter how mundane it may seem there is a real comfort of reference and creative potential when guys like yourself share the lighting and shot info. it is like if you are a drummer, (in my past life) no one tells you how to assemble the kit, you just have to hang a little back stage and see how the one on the band you are watching did his. Lefty or righty. Matched grip or trad? “Traps” comes from the word contraption. Lighting is the same gig. Wild creative potential. ~TEU
Joe McNally says
Sure, next Q&A this question will be front and center…all the best, Joe
Tom McKean says
Hey Joe. It was good seeing you in Philadelphia last Wednesday. I had wanted to tell you how much I have admired your photography. You’re definitely “a shooter.” In the past we have had similar paths. We both had to move a lot. After Syracuse you went to the New York Daily News, while I shot HS sports for 3 local papers, plus the Philadelphia Inquirer. I left the papers in 94. Digital arrived. And I have freelanced as a photojournalist since then. Keep shooting Joe :))
Was really hoping to meet you at WPPI Vegas this year.
Loved your book… was just not enough time in the travel to fit in all the things one likes to do.
Love to know how you actually feel when you are on top of a building taking some of those shots you’ve taken.
Toad Hollow Photography says
I love this feature you are working on Joe, it gives a very important behind the scenes look at what drives someone like you, someone I consider to be a mentor in the field and a constant source of inspiration. I truly hope all your dreams come true and that you have found everything you’ve always wanted from your chosen career. In the meantime I will linger on all the blog posts and photos you publish online with the hopes of having a chance for a glance into the world you have created for yourself; it’s incredibly fascinating, to say the very least. Cheers.