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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.

slide-show-269-copy

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.

dual_sync_009

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….”

Mark Olwick says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:26 am

Wonderful post, Joe. Thanks for sharing.

Mark

Ronan Palliser says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:27 am

Fascinating story Joe, and surprised and somewhat chuffed for my current home town to hear you chose Dublin in which to get engaged. Love reading the blog. Keep the more tk-ing!

bryan lathrop says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:28 am

I dunno, Joe, not only do you pass muster as a world-class photographer, but you scribble some infinitely readable and entertaining verbiage yourself. Thanks for keepin on. May your 2010 kick ass, hoping mine does too. Cheers

David L says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:31 am

Great stories, as usual, but I have one plea: don’t just leave the Kodachrome in the freezer! Shoot it, sell it, send some to me, whatever. Just don’t let it go to waste. After December 2010 it will probably become impossible to get it processed.

John A. says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:31 am

All the best for you and your family in 2010! Thanks for sharing your wit and wisdom and I’m looking forward to another year of blogging …and maybe another book? ;)

Jbelle says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:36 am

Just lovely.

Bob Pruitt says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:36 am

Wonderful writing.

Paul says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:42 am

Great read Joe!

Ken says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:48 am

Joe,

Nice story on this snowing morning in KY

Hope you meet you guys some day.

Most Kindly
Ken

Craig Ferguson (@cfimages) says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:58 am

Lovely post to review the year. See you in Malaysia in a few weeks.

Annemarie Mountz says:

on January 7, 2010 at 9:59 am

Joe, thanks for allowing us to stroll with you down memory lane. I always enjoy reading your posts. However, I must take issue with your remark that you’ve not grown wiser. Sometimes, when I’m in the midst of the fray, I wistfully recall my days as a staff photog, and part of me longs to be back in those trenches. That’s probably the reason I still shoot so much, even though it’s not part of my job description. So I think you have grown wiser, precisely because you remain, stubbornly, a photographer.

holly says:

on January 7, 2010 at 10:08 am

sweet

John Sturr says:

on January 7, 2010 at 10:11 am

Great write up — burn baby burn !!

Lewis W says:

on January 7, 2010 at 10:15 am

Thank you, Joe. Happy New Year.

Börje Ensgård says:

on January 7, 2010 at 10:47 am

Thanks for sharing all things that you do and thoughts that you have.
I was moved by reading about Frank McCourt.
I have read your two books from cover to cover and enjoyed every word.

Best Regards
//Börje

Mark says:

on January 7, 2010 at 10:47 am

Looking forward to the next 365 with you, Joe!

Jim Frazier says:

on January 7, 2010 at 10:57 am

Beautiful stories. I think a little of Frank rubbed off on you. Have a happy and prosperous 2010.

Rory says:

on January 7, 2010 at 11:14 am

Great review of the year Joe, thanks! Love hearing the story of hanging out with Frank McCourt here in Dublin. Time for you to teach here in Ireland – we could put you up and pay you with Guinness :-)

Rory

Bernard Walsh says:

on January 7, 2010 at 11:19 am

Hey Joe, (sounds like a line from a song), just wanted to be first to publish a comment – all the way from Ireland by the way.

Jim says:

on January 7, 2010 at 11:55 am

Joe – wonderful piece about your close friendship with Frank McCourt. I was just reading in “The Hotshoe Diaries” about your Nikon with the second sync plug so its nice to see a picture of the rig. I also have an old Agfa Loupe – although I never thought to use it as a shotglass! I’ll have to try that, soon.

John Scherer says:

on January 7, 2010 at 12:02 pm

One of the nicest retrospectives on 2009 I have seen Joe. Sorry for your losses, Frank McCourt, what a great story about him. I think we have few opportunities in life to make friends like that. I have a few and gladly they are still around.

I never met Marty Forsher. I once sent a Wista 4×5 field camera to him for “modifications” He seemed like someone I would have liked.

Blessing to you and Annie.

Again, anytime you make it to the Minneapolis area, give me a shout. I’ve got a bottle of Scotch…

-John

Kevin O says:

on January 7, 2010 at 12:02 pm

It’s all about the journey and the people you meet. Great stuff Joe, as always.

Wayne says:

on January 7, 2010 at 12:04 pm

That’s a really nice story about Frank as I’m a Dubliner photog and a big fan of Angela’s Ashes.

If you ever make it back over this way Joe you’ll be warmly welcomed.

Wayne

Tim Boyles says:

on January 7, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Joe, you are not only a great photographer, but an incredible writer. It shows in your books and also in your blogs.
I’m sure Frank McCourt knew it too and was probably one of the reasons you became friends.
He respected you, not only as a man, but also as a colleague.

Mark Holloway says:

on January 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Very cool story. I love the McBlog.

Mick Buston says:

on January 7, 2010 at 1:41 pm

What a lovely, honest, refreshing post. Thank you.

Damien says:

on January 7, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Great recap of the year. I got engaged in Ireland too! It was outside the small town of Gort in Western Ireland. A couple of cows were there to witness it.

I also wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation at Photoshop world in Boston last year. I hope 2010 brings you continued success.

Noah says:

on January 7, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Wow your FM2 there is pretty cool.

Do you wonder when you pass on what portraits of you people will use? What gear they will talk about? What adventures they will share with others for years?

Tommy Bjoerk says:

on January 7, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Oh Joe… I think Frank McCourt would be proud. You are not only a poet with your spectacular images, but you also have a really good way with words… I can’t thank you enough for all the wonderfull things you do for all of us aspiring photogs, here on your blog, and elsewhere. So, thank you, and let’s make 2010 a good one!

Best regards
/Tommy

lisa says:

on January 7, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Loved the comments on Frank McCourt. I only heard him speak once, but it was magical and I felt as though a friend died. How amazing to have him as a true one. He was a great teacher.

Clayton Pearlstein says:

on January 7, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I have been enjoying your photography (and just as much so your writing) for about the past year or so. I really appreciate your blog and specifically this post as it is a neat peak into a couple of lives including your own. I hope to have as many stories and as much skill in photography some day. Thank you for inadvertently (or not) me in that path through your books, blog, images, and videos. May God bless you in the new year.
Clayton Pearlstein
Pearlsteinphoto.blogspot.com

Clayton Pearlstein says:

on January 7, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I have been enjoying your photography (and just as much so your writing) for about the past year. I really appreciate your blog and specifically this post as it is a neat peak into a couple of lives including your own. I hope to have as many stories and as much skill in photography some day. Thank you for inadvertently (or not) helping me in that path through your books, blog, images, and videos. May God bless you in the new year.
Clayton Pearlstein
Pearlsteinphoto.blogspot.com

JayB says:

on January 7, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Joe – Love your post. You’ve kept me sane during an extended period of unemployment. That has turned out to be a great meditation into my photography. Thanks.

Adam says:

on January 7, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Love reading your posts… But what does more tk mean. I see it on all of your blog posts.

Thanks,

Adam

Ziv says:

on January 7, 2010 at 5:27 pm

You know, you’re starting to get sentimental in your old age. Great stories.

Question: “… 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’re missing an important piece of information… care to share what he wrote?

Best,
Ziv

Sarah Kavanaugh says:

on January 7, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Still have my F4s. I take it out once in a while, put batteries in it and make sure it still works. Why? Dunno. Oh, probably b/c it was my first real camera.

john fowler says:

on January 7, 2010 at 7:20 pm

God bless you Joe. Thank you. Here in Ottawa some of us drink Jameison.)

phil says:

on January 7, 2010 at 8:06 pm

I worked with a photographer in the fall of 2008 who used the same Polaroid rig! I admit at first I thought it was some sort of cost saving trick to get 2 frames on a single sheet.

Eric W says:

on January 7, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Great post, Joe. I always love reading about your past encounters – it’s like a living book!

Sorry about the losses over the year. It’s a bit sobering how the pace picks up so quickly…

Alex N. says:

on January 7, 2010 at 11:04 pm

I don’t know you. A friend pointed me this way because Frank McCourt was my high school English teacher, my inspiration, and for 25 years, my friend.

’tis a lovely portrait of him – both the one you created with your camera and the one you created with his chosen medium. Frank had a great eye for little details and I think if had not been a teacher and a writer, he might have taken the photographer route. In some ways that profession was done in by his remarkable memory. If Frank wanted to see something again, he could cast his mind back and see it. The rest of us have to content ourselves with other means… words and pictures.

Thank you for sharing your time with Frank with the rest of us.

Polgara says:

on January 8, 2010 at 12:17 am

Beautiful… and your photos are really inspiring.
It is important to remember the good things about those who are gone. To remember and to make more memories with those we still have with us.

Andrew says:

on January 8, 2010 at 1:39 am

Wonderfully written. You make me want to explore the world with a film camera.

Rogier says:

on January 8, 2010 at 2:49 am

Thanks Joe. Posts like this help me realize that whenever I want to be as good as you, I should be willing to invest as much time and energy as you have.

Jesper Elgaard says:

on January 8, 2010 at 3:20 am

Hi Joe.
Been following you quite some time. Truly inspiring.
Have a great 2010 and if you ever come by Denmark, I’ll give you a tour.. :)
Keep raising the standards!
Kind regards, Jesper Elgaard.

Bill Bogle Jr. says:

on January 8, 2010 at 8:36 am

and she said yes.

For all of us who have married up, we know the worth of those words.

You where a whirlwind in 2009, and you took us along for that breakneck journey. 2010 sounds no different, and we look forward to joining you along the way.

Thanks Joe for all that you do and how you share. Here’s to the 28th floor we call the Internet.

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Jeremy Sale says:

on January 8, 2010 at 8:37 am

You’re a stand-up guy, Joe. An inspiration to us all.
There’s a cold one waiting for you in Toronto, if you’re in the neighbourhood.

Skip says:

on January 8, 2010 at 9:27 am

Another great blog Joe. I really enjoy the way you can tell a story. See you in Vermont this year.

Dave D. says:

on January 8, 2010 at 9:27 am

Great post! Thouroughly enjoyed it. Loved Frank McCourt’s observation of the photographer, “…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.” Nicely done.

David Zappa says:

on January 8, 2010 at 9:43 am

Very deep Joe. Made me feel next to you while shooting… thank you.

Randall Hull says:

on January 8, 2010 at 10:23 am

Eloquent and touching.

Thank you Joe for your brilliant posts filled with beauty, both visually and verbally.

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