Bus_Rider_Mexico_NS306AGirl_in_Doorway_NS307AIronman_Underwater_newAMcNally_283_G_v3 copyA copyRwanda-Pano_NS026.tif
responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Take a Picture of a Feeling…

Jan 18

In history at 7:36am

Every once in a while, you might get a feeling you need to shoot a picture. I would follow through on those, no matter how awkward, or sad, or inconvenient it might be. Over the years, I’ve made pictures of some feelings. Missed lots of times. Some, though, I still have a picture of, and I’m glad I do. Those pictures, of those feelings, have become my memory. When I saw my mom over Christmas, I had a feeling it would be the last time I would see her. So I made a picture.

My mom was an Irish lady with a trip wire temper and a pretty good right cross. She was also a good mom, in her way. She spent her life raising three kids, fiercely, and uprooting us as my dad kept changing jobs. He was gone a lot, so she bought and sold five homes on her own, and stuffed all of us and the dog into a Plymouth Belvedere, and headed for neighborhoods and schools unknown. She also spent her life doing battle with just about anybody she felt looked at her cross-ways, which was just about everybody, including, maybe even especially, her own family. She always spoke her mind. And if you didn’t agree with her, you were just, you know, wrong. Her steely bluntness made for lively family gatherings, which diminished in popularity and numbers over the years.

Ma was just about always at DEFCON One or Two at the least. Prickly to a fault, she went through her day on the alert for any fault or slight, real or perceived. If you did business with her, you pretty much got sued, or at the very least received a legally loaded, relatively unpleasant letter. She went through lawyers like popcorn.

Mom was a sword that cut both ways, of course. Her fearsomely direct approach to parenting left you no doubt as to where you stood as one of her kids, to be sure. But woe to someone she thought might have crossed one of us! One of my high school teachers who didn’t care for my attitude, an Irish Christian brother no less, drastically re-jiggered one of my grades once to negatively affect my GPA. She went to the school and fixed it, and him. I’m sure he said his prayers that night with renewed vigor.

Neighbors were an especially favorite target, especially if they had the temerity to actually stick around, and plant bushes she didn’t find attractive, or re-grade their property so that by her lights their runoff water would then hurtle, Niagara-like, towards her property. Once, a neighbor came over to ask her to shut down the light bulb she kept on overnight above her driveway door. He alleged it was keeping his toddler up at night. I don’t think it was reasonable to ask a 75 year old woman living by herself to shut down the comfort of a 60 watt bulb in the driveway, really. Neither did Ma.

She nodded when informed of the youngster’s sleep travails, and thanked the neighbor for the information. The very next week, after a visit by an electrician, her driveway was lit up with multiple 150 watt floodlights that sprayed so much illumination her place looked like a POW camp, minus the razor wire and the bark-less Dobermans. Those neighbors irked her so much she put up a laundry line on the thin, heavily shaded strip of property between her garage and their backyard, a place where literally, the sun didn’t shine. Every time those folks launched a barbecue or had some company, her undies would go up on the line. They would stay wet, on the line, all day. Drying them, you see, wasn’t the point.

Our parents live on in all of us, of course. Once, approaching the George Washington Bridge in heavy traffic, with four lanes squeezing to two, I went Road Warrior on somebody who was trying to cut in front of me. White knuckling the steering wheel, muttering ancient curses, I was on a bumper grinding heading with this guy when my ever perceptive oldest daughter called out from the passenger seat, “Dad, you’re becoming grandma.” I let the guy in.

All of mom’s flinty antics were of course amusing and exasperating until they became serious. As the police chief of her town said to me and my sisters, “We really don’t want to put an 85 year old in jail. But she has to stop.” Ma was pushing it. In the end she was the one who moved.

We had our bumps, to be sure, and long periods of silence as the years wore on, as she got ever angrier at the world and her diminished power over it. Eventually, given the haze of aging memory, she softened a bit, and there were a couple of visits. At almost 97, she could hear and see just fine, and took one aspirin a day as the sum of her medication. What she couldn’t do particularly well was remember.

She had flashes, though. That last visit, I do think she recognized me, if only briefly, and she reached to hold my hand. As difficult as it was, I made a picture.

We talked for a bit. It was nice. As I left, I made this last photo. I guess I just had a feeling.

She’s gone now. True to form, she resolutely refused to share space with my dad, preferring to go with her mom and pop, at rest in the Bronx. The ground there will be richer for her presence, I’m sure. And, if a tree ever grows out of the earth where my mother lays, I guarantee you it will be a tree to be reckoned with.

More tk…..

487 Responses to “Take a Picture of a Feeling…”

Bogdan says:

on January 25, 2011 at 9:21 am

Simple, heartfelt words. Heartbreaking and beautifu.
Sorry for your loss. May her soul rest in peace forever.

Best Regards,


Corinne Noel says:

on January 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm

She sounds like someone I would have loved too :) She was spunky! She had lots of charachter :) Those make for the best Moms…ask my kids ;) So sorry for your loss, thank you for sharing your heart & letting us know what we are missing from our lives :)


Corinne Noel

Greg Casey says:

on January 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm


I cried when I saw your post. So touching…..You have so much courage. I have lost both of my parents and I wish I had the same courage to do what you did.

Stay strong…..you are a great photographer but a better man.

Josef matos says:

on January 25, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Sorry to hear about your loss.

Brian Loflin says:

on January 25, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Your mother was a beautiful lady. Nice tribute and images.
I just lost my mother, too. She was 97 (and a half, she’d say) and spry, gregarious and healthy until the day she died. Fortunately, she went quickly.
Frequently still, I really hear her down the hall from my office at home calling my name.
So- we know they are only gone in body.
They’re still with us in spirit.
One day, you will hear yours busting your chops again.
Just chuckle and say,
“Thanks, Mom.”

Rogier says:

on January 26, 2011 at 1:33 am

Joe, I enjoy your blog a great deal. Through it I have a sense I know you — if only a little bit. I’m very sorry for your loss and the sadness that comes with it.

Piero Capannini says:

on January 26, 2011 at 5:20 am

My strongest condolecens.
You made me cry with that. Thanks for sharing your emotions with us.

Prashant says:

on January 26, 2011 at 8:38 am

Written from the heart.
Sincere condolences.

Sandi Parrott says:

on January 26, 2011 at 11:20 am

Tears are falling as I read your blog. What a wonderful, curmudgety(?) woman she must have been. God Bless you and your family. The photos are really wonderful!

Wedding photographer Essex - Studio2 says:

on January 26, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Joe sorry to hear of your Mom’s passing, my thoughts are with you


Joe Lynch says:

on January 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Hello Joe
My sincere condolences. I lost my mother a week before Christmas. I took a photo of her one week before she passed away, as she sat in her hospital room, but it’s too distressing to see how ill she looked. So I prefer to look at the photo I took one year ago on her 81st birthday when she looked so well. But seeing your photo of you holding your mother’s hand makes me wish I had taken one like that as I sat for several days holding her hand until she passed. But the best photo I have is a ‘snap’ taken of me dancing with my mother 23 years ago, at a wedding. I hardly looked at it through out these years, but now it is so precious. Thank goodness for photography.

Brian Morowczynski says:

on January 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Gorgeous tribute Joe. All my condolences. I can’t tell if the final image or your final words were most poignant.

It’s true it is hard, very hard, to take photos sometimes, particularly of family. We lost my grandmother to several long years of Alzheimer’s. As much as I considered taking photos along her journey from life to death, the camera felt like it weight 1,000 pounds. It made me consider what it is that we photographers ask of our subjects when photographing their most tender moments. I began to wonder if I could request to take images of others that my own family would not have wanted taken of my ailing grandmother.

My best to you and your family.

Todd Ward says:

on January 27, 2011 at 10:50 am

Sorry to hear of your loss Joe. Thoughts and prayers for you and your family. A very nice tribute indeed…


Donna Caughlin says:

on January 27, 2011 at 1:28 pm

The best writers are the ones who write truth. Since you’re an amazing photographer, I’m sure you seek truth in your work which is why I think this was beautifully written. A tribute to who your mother really was as a person and a mom. Sounds like she left a mark on the world and your heart.

My deepest sympathy for your loss. <3

Sina says:

on January 27, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Joe… sorry to hear this… apologize for late opening your blog…

Ed says:

on January 28, 2011 at 5:04 am

Sincere condolences Joe.

Kaouthia says:

on January 28, 2011 at 9:08 am

So sorry to read about this Joe. My deepest sympathies.

jason harry says:

on January 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm

all my love and wishes to you joe

your a decent guy family are so very special

i have a young daughter now four and she is the world to me


Patte Brownell says:

on January 28, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Just had an opportunity to read your message. I met you in Santa Fe last March. My family tree is similar except my family is eastern European and still alive. A true challenge. Thank you for the insightful post -helps me with perspective with my parents. Patte

Erland Weemering says:

on January 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm

I am very sorry to read about the loss of such a wonderful person. The pictures and write up you made are precious. Seeing what you did, has now given me the courage to take pictures of love ones in the later years of their lives. Thanks again.


John G says:

on January 29, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I had several Irish great Aunts that would have gotten along great with your mother,,,,,,or fought like hell with her. I miss them like crazy and I wish I had taken more shots of them before they were gone. My mom is 81 and though doing pretty well she has “spells” and I’m not sure how long she’ll be around, though could be forever. So I’m going to be sure to start taking shots of her now, thanks to you.
I’m really sorry for your loss.

Patti Schmidt says:

on January 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Very sorry for your loss Joe. Your story and photographs made me cry.

Ralf Obermann says:

on February 3, 2011 at 7:06 am

Hi Joe, just stop by an see your blog. We are really sorry to hear of your Mom’s passing, our thoughts are with you.

Kevan Goddard says:

on February 3, 2011 at 7:29 am

You are one of the few people who can make me laugh and cry at the same time.
Your photography is inspiring and your humanity even more so.

My sincerest condolences

Allegra says:

on February 4, 2011 at 9:35 am

what a feeling. I hate it when I laugh and cry at the same time!

Your mom sounds like she was a true character and I’m sure the world is a little more grey without her in it.

My condolences.

Terri says:

on February 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Joe -

Such a lovely tribute to a strong feisty woman. I lost my Mom over 10 years ago now, she was a strong, feisty Italian Mother. I could not help by tear up when I read your blog…I still cherish the snap shots of my Mom from years ago and have scanned them into digital format to share with family and friends.

God Bless you and your family – until you meet your Ma again -rest in the comfort of your family and friends and your photo fans…..

Paul Alers says:

on February 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm

A great tribute. My mom died suddenly early on Feb. 4 after suffering a fall. Damn streets of DC. Saw her for the last time the previous weekend–though I had my camera, I wish now I’d taken one last photo of her-though she hated me pointing it at her. She was known to many as “The Little General”. All moms hold special places. At least I know there is one more angel up there looking down on us.

Vadim Kim says:

on February 20, 2011 at 1:14 am

Hello,friends. I would like to ask you. What Camera Profile used Joe in Camera Raw/Lightroom?

Sharik Verma says:

on February 23, 2011 at 3:40 pm

I am a fan of you since NatGeo… I am visiting your blog for the first time…but I am astonished…This post is just as amazing as your mom… No treasure is greater than our mothers…I must say!

denise karis says:

on March 22, 2011 at 5:52 am

Belated regrets for your mothers passing… I only started following you a few days ago and am catching up the last year – thank you for sharing and good thoughts to you and your family.

Tassilyn says:

on July 26, 2011 at 4:18 am

I was so confused about what to buy, but this makes it undertsadnbale.

Chris Jung says:

on February 3, 2012 at 11:34 am

Hi Joe,
Thanks for sharing.

bronney says:

on May 25, 2012 at 4:11 am

and with those pics, Ma is now immortal. She already made the world a better place by having you bro. And you made this world better by having Maggie. And I am sure Maggie made you a better person too. As DH would say in his geeky way, positive feedback loop. Only this one, is a love loop.


Leave a Reply