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Memories of Christmas Gifts Past….

Dec 28

In history at 11:23am

Hope everyone is having a great bunch of holidays. We had a houseful of people Christmas Day. 20 folks, all hungry. Annie did an amazing meal, and I didn’t blow the barbecue end of the deal, thankfully. That was ’cause my sister Rosemary ran the grill basically, and I just did what she told me to do. (Thus proving that a knuckle dragger like me can listen even when standing at the grill, where usually the sheer raging din of testosterone drowns out all rational thought and conversation and all that is heard is a series of hoots, clicks and grunts.)

We had lots and lots of family over, including my niece Michelle, fairly recently married to her husband, Mark. When she was born in ’75, she was a first in many ways. First for my sister Kathy, first new baby in the McNally clan for a long time, and for me, my first baby photo subject. (My kids came later.) On vacations, summers, visits, her nutty Uncle Joe always had a camera in his hands. She was young enough to think it was fun, and thus tolerated me. And over her early years, I built up enough imagery of Michelle’s moods and mysteries that for my ’78 Christmas gifts, I printed a calendar of 1979 according to Michelle._jm11854

It’s showing wear and tear now, yellowed with age, but the prints have stood the test of time really well. Which is a good thing, ’cause the negs on all these pix have vanished. This was not a one click, send it to Apple deal back then. Made the prints in the Daily News lab, where I was a studio apprentice, a way station on the path to being a shooter at a union shop like The News. As a boy in the studio (you weren’t classified as a man in newspaper parlance until you were on the street as a shooter) I used newspaper printing paper and chemistry, which was a pretty good perk of being back there in the fumes, and then dry mounted the prints on boards. (Obviously not archival board, if you look above.) Then I did Kodaliths of calendar sheets, and printed those. Made 6 calendars, so there were a lot of long nights in the lab after work. It was cool, though, ’cause I was back printing again, something I had always enjoyed at school. The B&W negs were all run through a Versamat machine, state of the art dry to dry processing at the time. I viewed those monsters as high powered mulching machines that you dumped your roll into one and end of and said novenas till it came out the other.

So in January, Michelle proved her mettle as Nikon shooter, F2 in hand.


But, come February, she proved to be more thoughtful, pensive, even. I guess I would be too, if I were wearing a hat like that:-)

_jm11908By Easter things were definitely more lighthearted. Shot this, believe it or not, with a 500mm mirror lens. Nikon made a couple catadioptric lenses, which were short, stubby, incredibly difficult to focus accurately, and, in the case of the 500, a fixed f8. Needless to say, they don’t make these anymore. God knows why I was shooting that lens for this, but it did make the Daily News centerfold for Easter Sunday, 1978.


Then came summer, and my favorite shot of her, hair so blond it disappeared in the sun.


By September she had once again grown pensive, even a tad mysterious. It might have been that milk mustache disguise.


Outdoors for October. Is there a photographer in the world who has not thrown leaves in the air to get a fall picture of a kid?


Then of course, there were turkey insides to investigate for November.


And at the end of the year, Santa’s visit.


Turns out these were just the beginning of Michelle’s adventures in front of the camera. She grew up so tall and beautiful she took a hiatus from college at one point to make a tour of the NY fashion agencies. Did some work in the Big Apple, and then made the model’s traditional winter trek south to Miami Beach. Down there on the sand, 12′ silks and frames on highboys bloom everywhere as the swimsuit and summer wear catalogs are shot while most of us freeze our butts off up north. It so happened that I had a big job to shoot for Nikon, and I had some budget, and an open ticket to shoot anywhere I wanted. We headed for Miami. It was around the introduction of the SB26 and the new fangled device of a built in sensor panel that would enable it to trigger off other flashes. This was big news at that time. So, I shot this….


But I also got Michelle in front of the lens. I had no particular yen to shoot in Miami, but I thought I could throw Michelle some work, and at the same time let her mom know about how things were going. Michelle could always handle herself, but she was a like a sweet, easy going guppy who just jumped into the shark pool of the Miami fashion scene, and her booker wasn’t sending her out all that often for work. So I played the role of the NY asshole fashion photog with a budget and made calls to her agent, jumped up and down and threw a hissy fit about why wasn’t I seeing the portfolio of this fabulous girl I have heard about? I might have even used a French accent, I can’t remember.


While shooting this, I kept saying ridiculous stuff at camera, like, “That’s good sweetie, yeah, that’s really pretty!” My assistants were chuckling, shaking their heads and looking at me like I just fell off the turnip truck. “Dude, she’s not sweet, she’s hot!” “Yeah, well, I’m her uncle, so don’t even think about it!” It was a long way from playing in the leaves.

She’s married now, and of course I showed up with a D3 to make a few snaps. She spent some time with Cassie, the family pooch in the midst of pre-wedding craziness.


And indulged me in post wedding, “What just happened?”  silliness at the reception room bar.


I consider myself very lucky to have a beautiful niece who smiled at a photog relative all these years. She allowed me to write a little piece of our family history with a lens and a camera. As I look at that calendar now, Christmas 2009, I realize I remember precisely nothing of Christmas 1978. Virtually everything about that day and that calendar, for instance, is gone. Michelle’s all grown up, the F2 is a museum piece, and film has been replaced. (Who could have imagined?)

What remains? The pictures. And, now that she’s married, maybe, someday in the future, there might be another little blond photo subject. And, with any luck, I’ll be there, with a camera. More tk….

75 Responses to “Memories of Christmas Gifts Past….”

Michel says:

on December 29, 2009 at 8:19 pm

“Thus proving that a knuckle dragger like me can listen even when standing at the grill….”

All professions, I suppose, have their knuckle draggers, (I was just scanning Chris Weeks’ blog.) But you, Mr. McNally, are a class act.

Dave Hutchinson says:

on December 29, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Another wonderful post Joe. I just backed up to a DVD over 1200 photos that I have taken of my 1 year old granddaughter since her birth. I hope that she will continue to want to pose for me at least as long as your neice has. Bravo!

randy baran says:

on December 29, 2009 at 9:05 pm

hey man!

wonderful blog. best wishes to michelle. may this marriage work forever, more or less!


Meng Soon says:

on December 30, 2009 at 1:08 am

Hi Joe,

I’m a follower to your blog. Gave me so many idea and inspiration. As usual your pictures and stories are awesome. Thank you for sharing. Hope to see more great picture from you in 2010.

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year !! Take care …

Mike Neale says:

on December 30, 2009 at 1:40 am

Michelle should be very proud of her uncle Joe,…we are!

Abhijit Bhatlekar says:

on December 30, 2009 at 6:13 am

A beautiful post, Joe. Time never allows us to know when we get OLD GRUMPY UNCLES. Surely you will be there to shoot Michelle’s lil one..!! Best-Abhi

Christian L. says:

on December 30, 2009 at 8:29 am

Hi Joe,
Great write-up as ususal.
I have become quite a fan of yours, watching your videos on Kelby Training after first getting to “know you” on the nikon Speedlight video. I really like your photography and creativeness but I really enjoy hearing and reading you. I think you should get a TV talk show…that would be a blast.
This is a great post. Congratulations on not only having successes in life, but living an apparently successful life.

Skip says:

on December 30, 2009 at 10:46 am


Another great post. Sharing our life and memories is a great thing about photography.
Happy holidays to you and yours.

Dan Ward says:

on December 30, 2009 at 11:10 am

With your signature touch of personnality you’ve nailed the most enduring and compelling reason d’être of photogs the world over. It’s about timeless memories made significant by family connections. History with a small ‘h’.
Your Imagery gift to many generations of family outlasts the few moments of camera work or nights in a lab. What a profitable time investment that turned out to be!

Thanks for the lesson on photog values, Joe.

Bob Towery says:

on December 30, 2009 at 11:16 am

What an amazing post! We got a peek into her entire life, very magical. She probably is as nice a person as she is photogenic. Thanks for taking the time to create this post Joe.

Louis Pang says:

on December 30, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Good story, Joe. Gives me warm and fuzzy feeling.

Michael Wiesman says:

on December 30, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Haha, can you say 80′s swimsuits! I remember seeing that image when it first was published, and I liked reading more about the behind the scenes in “The Moment it Clicks”.

I’m very passionate about the historic purpose of photography, only video and writing have th power of what our young minds can remember. I made it a point at the beginning of December to look back at all my old darkroom boxes and binders of negs from when I was in high-school (when the film, paper and chemicals were free). Alway love the walk through a photo time-machine.

Cheers to making this 2010 a great year!

Michael Reinhart says:

on December 30, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Love it… thanks Joe.

Dianne says:

on December 30, 2009 at 6:55 pm

What a cool post; loved the pictures of your niece and the message of core values that live even in the heart of a curmudgeonly photog! Best for the new year — keep showing us how it’s done by a “true pro”.

Steve Perks says:

on December 30, 2009 at 7:18 pm

It was a blonde haired daughter (now neary 4) that got me into photography in the first place.

These images are priceless and it doesn’t matter what body, lens or lighting set-up you shot them with.

They are a moment in history and invoke fond/irreplaceable memories.

I hope Michelle is proud of her famous Uncle Joe and hope my daughter is as proud of her dad when she looks back on the thousands of images of her childhood, literally starting from the minute she ‘popped’! (I would have set up a few gelled speedlights, but the midwife said no flash)

Torin says:

on December 31, 2009 at 12:47 am

Joe, as a dad of a 21 year old, I was really touched by your photos and story. You are a gifted visual artist.

Have a blessed and Happy New Year!

Billy says:

on December 31, 2009 at 1:41 am

Thats soooo cool Joe. I was on hiatus cultivating bad habits when my kid and nieces and nephews were growing up. I picked up a camera again a few years ago. Luckily, those nieces and nephews are having kids now. I have a second chance……….it’s an amazing feeling to give back something that I stole from them so many years ago. It never dawns on me with clients, but we’re in the memory business. I don’t get it till I’m shooting family.

Stefanos says:

on January 1, 2010 at 3:59 am

Great story Joe. I think all these cameras acted like time machines. No better way to travel in the past.
May the new year be good for you and your family.

David says:

on January 2, 2010 at 9:13 am

Thank you for the wonderful story of your niece. Having just boxed up 1800 slides and negatives to be scanned (by Scan Cafe) that date from 1979 to 1999, I had a similar reaction that I had forgotten so much of the details, but the images brought them back for me: the big and the little things in life. I so appreciate all that you have shared in your books and your blog, the craft and the humanity. It sounds trite and repetitive, but your work is an inspiration for me. Having attended one of your Dobbs Ferry workshops last January, I’m trying to build on what you taught about how to think about light and *making* a picture they way you do. I’m 1/100th of the way there, but I have something to strive for. And it’s a great feeling to have give images to people of them or their kids and have them really appreciate the memory it creates. Thanks for everything.

Walt says:

on January 4, 2010 at 8:32 am

Sweet story. You are a lucky uncle.

Brett says:

on January 6, 2010 at 3:59 pm


So YOU are the reference we keep hearing about how there’s always an “uncle Joe” at the wedding (party, whatever-name-your-event) with his new camera!

Guess it stands to reason.

cricut scrapbooking tool says:

on February 2, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Saw your blog bookmarked on Delicious. I love your site and marketing strategy.

Premature Ejaculation Treatment · says:

on November 8, 2010 at 7:52 am

well, there would be a need for more Christmas gifts next month :


on April 25, 2011 at 2:47 am

Pas mal , merci

Kiley Boucaud says:

on September 22, 2011 at 7:59 pm

I’m so glad I found your amazing blog!

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