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Long and Winding Road….

Jan 7

In Friends, history at 9:15am

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 — World War II, the American civil rights movement, the Vietnam War — 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…..

69 Responses to “Long and Winding Road….”

Chris Davis Cina says:

on January 8, 2010 at 11:06 am

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.

Becky says:

on January 8, 2010 at 11:55 am

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:

on January 8, 2010 at 12:23 pm

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.

OneSmallStrobe says:

on January 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Great Joe … excellent reading. Great image of Frank. Let’s look to 2010 with excitement. Lewis

Hans says:

on January 8, 2010 at 2:37 pm

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:

on January 8, 2010 at 8:16 pm

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.

Dave says:

on January 8, 2010 at 8:40 pm

“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.

Kim says:

on January 8, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Thanks for sharing, your writing is so real, I felt like I knew those people.

Another Dave says:

on January 9, 2010 at 12:56 am

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.

AYRTON360 says:

on January 9, 2010 at 12:58 am

Sorry Joe, I wrote a mistake :-(
I work for you as assistant in 1989 !!!


CallumW says:

on January 9, 2010 at 6:19 am

Here’s to 2010 …. another year in the trenches :)


Rick Lee says:

on January 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm

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:

on January 10, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Joe, I trust you are wiser.

Irene Jones says:

on January 11, 2010 at 4:15 pm

You’re a rock star Joe. I love your blog. Passion, Prose and Photography all in one place.

Michael Reinhart says:

on January 13, 2010 at 9:17 am

Like. Immensely.

Paul F says:

on January 18, 2010 at 7:04 pm

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.

Free Woodworking Plans PDF says:

on January 26, 2010 at 12:14 am

Hello. This is kind of an “unconventional” question , but have other visitors asked you how get the menu bar to look like you’ve got it? I also have a blog and am really looking to alter around the theme, however am scared to death to mess with it for fear of the search engines punishing me. I am very new to all of this …so i am just not positive exactly how to try to to it all yet. I’ll just keep working on it one day at a time Thanks for any help you can offer here.

P Deasy says:

on May 25, 2010 at 9:12 am

Love the picture of Frank McCourt, first saw it in ‘The Moment it Clicks.’

Frame says:

on October 1, 2010 at 7:21 am

Love the site layout you have going on here! I could do with employing you to do my website!

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