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Archive for May, 2012

Talking Down Under

May 28

In Friends, Fun at 12:54am

Winding down now, after a month in Australia. Heading home this week. It’s been a wonderful trip, and I’ve learned a lot. Such as…

G’day is actually one word. And when an Aussie says it, even to a total stranger, they generally really mean it.

I would be hard put, I think, to use the word “uptight” in the same sentence as the word, “Aussie.” Folks down here are pretty relaxed and easy going about most stuff, which is probably quite healthy.

They do talk a little strangely, though. Being here has been a wonderful adventure and education in language.

For instance, I went to the State of Origin Rugby match the other night, which is a huge event in the Aussie sports world. (This is referred to as “going to the footy.”) It was fun, and quite an amiable affair, with folks cheering for the home side and all. There was only one “incident” where an inebriated Queensland fan sort of danced along in front of the New South Wales fan section, his gestures suggesting to that section of the stadium that they engage him in a level of physical intimacy that would have been anatomically impossible for that many people to achieve, at least simultaneously. He was forcibly exited by security, to much cheering and a beer shower.

All my mates were cheering for New South Wales, so I sat in the blue section, and got with the program. They scored first, but ultimately lost. The Blues did, however, have a terrific cheer. “Queensland are wankers!” Pause a beat. “Queensland are wankers!”

I asked what the specifics of being a wanker entailed, and was told it meant that you know, you’re just a tosser. Okay! That explains that!

The Foster’s beer campaign in America has convinced, I’m sure, lots of Yanks that it is the brew of choice down under. Definitely not, I am assured. Most self-respecting, beer drinking Aussies (and that would be the entire country) would rather be caught dead than drinking a can of Foster’s, which is routinely referred to as “cat piss.”  Which is not, perhaps, as negative as it might sound. Beer down here is generally referred to as piss, and if you’re “sinking the piss,” you’re drinking bunches of beers.

In the beer department, the way to go (and this is an admittedly limited research sample) is Crown Lager, aka, “Crownies.” It’s a limited sample as I’ve never been able to drink lots of beer. In college they referred to me as a “two can commando.” Down here I’m a “two pot screamer.”

And, if you drink a lot of beer, you’ll have to “take the kids to the pool.” (Go to the lavatory.)

If you really, really drink too much beer, you might end up having a “liquid laugh.” Back home, we might refer to upchucking as having a Technicolor yawn, or a long talk on the big white telephone.

Went to the movies in Sydney and bought a Gold Class ticket. What a treat! You go to smallish theater and are shown to a incredibly comfortable recliner of a chair, and waiters will bring you snacks, beers, wine etc. Awesome! It was $40 for the ticket, though, which is pricey. They do offer half off on Gold Class tickets on Tuesdays, though, and their marketing slogan for same is “Tight Ass Tuesdays!” Somehow, I don’t think that slogan would fly back home. There would be somebody offended, somehow, and the results could involve placards, protests, lawsuits, and the like.

We trekked overland from Sydney to the Gold Coast and to Melbourne, so I’ve seen a bit of the country now, which of course I didn’t when I was here shooting the Olympics. When working an Olympiad, you basically see the inside of the sports venues, and the inside of your hotel room, briefly, before you pass out from exhaustion every night.

So, I’ve seen the Big Banana, and the Big Merino. (I missed out on the Big Prawn.) And, in keeping with the Aussie philosophy of everything being big, I have to say the Big Merino’s testicles are, as they might say in Aussie speak, “absolutely bangin!”

If you’re a bit loopy, or behave foolishly, you might be referred to as having “kangaroos loose in the top paddock.” Back home, I’m proud to say we have equally innovative phrases for dimwitted behavior, such as, “one or two fries short of a happy meal,” and “one sandwich short of a picnic.” You could also say someone didn’t drink from the fountain of knowledge, they only gargled.

I kept hearing that people were “absolutely wrapped,” which means they enjoyed themselves. At first I thought this condition was “rapt,” as in rapt attention, or maybe even tending towards rapture. But, then, the only time I’ve seen Aussies approach rapture has been when we’ve offered some of our subjects a case of VB beer in return for signing a photo release. I mean, they stopped short of speaking in tongues, but their eyes definitely glazed over. I later learned I was indeed wrong and the word for pleased or entertained actually is “wrapped.” Cool.

I would guess the opposite of being wrapped would be to engage in a whinge. “Whinge” is akin to whining or complaining. When I’ve gotten together down here with some fellow photogs, and we’ve imbibed a fair bit of alcohol, we’ve come quite close to having ourselves a right good whinge.

If I’m surprised by something at home, I might say, “My Goodness!” Down here, some folks express surprise by the phrase, “Holy Dooley!”

If you’re a Bogan, you apparently don’t dress particularly well.

A pash is evidently a long, passionate kiss. Caution. This could lead to rooting.

Giving it a good try, or perhaps keeping too much for yourself, is referred to as a “fair squeeze on the sauce bottle.” And if you think a lot of yourself, it might be said that “you’ve got tickets on yourself, mate!” This type of individual might also bear the nickname “Figjam.” (F**k I’m good, just ask me!)

If you play hooky from work without being sick, you are “chucking a sickie.” Men’s swimming trunks are “budgie smugglers.” (My Aussie mates did seem to enjoy the phrase “banana hammock,” which I offered in return.) A “bush oyster” is what you produce when you blow your nose. A “journo” is a journalist, an “ambo” is an ambulance driver, and a “garbo” is a garbage collector.

If you’re really, really busy, you could be “flat out like a lizard drinking,” or a “cat burying shit.”

Anyway, gotta shove off here. Going to go into Melbourne to have a Captain Cook and a walkabout. Day off today, actually, so I’m being a bit of a bludger and not doing any yakka whatsoever. Had my brekkie, and it’s London to a brick I’m not doing much today. Going to put on my trackie daks and my sunnies, and see a little of the city, and just spend some quiet time, ‘cause since I came to Oz I’ve definitely been yabbering a fair bunch.

I’ve met some really nice people here, and made some wonderful friends.  It’s going to be tough to say “hooroo.” (Goodbye.) And that’s the fair dinkum truth.

More tk…

Creative Asia, Coming in July….

May 22

In Seminars & Workshops at 8:59pm

My bud and fellow shooter Louis Pang continues the adventure by launching another version of Creative Asia, which in a very short time has become an absolute go to event  for photographers, art directors, and visual communicators from all over the Far East. Louis has not only positioned himself as one of the world’s leading wedding shooters, he’s also determined to influence an entire generation of shooters via his teaching and energy. Hence, Creative Asia. Below is a bit of a mission statement, if you will.

Wonderful goals, and lofty language. But then Louis throws everybody a curve and invites a coupla dudes from the States. This guy from Atlanta who only uses one light, and a bona fide looney tune from NY who totes around bags of speed lights. How we gonna fit in?

Really honored to be teaching with Zack, who is a supremely talented shooter out of the South, and a guy who has already has earned his stripes as a shooter through the school of hard knocks and ups and downs. And, unstintingly, in the grand and honorable tradition of this pass it on business of photography, he takes his accumulated experience and uses it to teach wonderfully and well.

July 16-20, in Hong Kong, there will be a gathering of photographers and educators from all over, converging to talk and teach photography. Here’s a link for details. Lots of wonderful days, and late night BS sessions. Many beers will be consumed. And it takes place in one of the most amazing cities on the planet. More tk….

Way Down Under

May 18

In On Location, Seminars & Workshops at 8:31pm

Back in Sydney after almost a week in Tasmania, which is as wonderfully out of the way relative to everyplace else as its name might suggest. Lovely land, wonderful people. I was assigned by Tourism Australia to do a somewhat open ended assignment described as the Faces of Tasmania. I fully disclosed to them beforehand that I was a relatively awful rock and tree shooter, and preferred to stick with subject matter that talks back. (There have been location days of course, and people subjects, that have made me dearly wish I was better at the rocks and trees.)

But, I am, resolutely, a people photog, despite (or because of) its unrelenting unpredictability.

By pure chance, and by asking some questions of Sam, our intrepid ATV guide and mentor, we ended up photographing a terrific Tasmanian character nicknamed Muddy. He’s worked the water his whole life, and we asked him to come down to the dock for sunrise, which was a tad earlier than generally required of him. His fee for this was a case of VB beer. Done.

He’s got a wonderful, knowing gaze, the kind that says, in unspoken fashion, something along the lines of, “Get this over with, silly ass photographer and let me get to my work, and my beer.” Which is okay. I’ll gladly ride through any sort of ridicule to photograph a face like Muddy’s. Very brief, but fun, shoot.

Out there on the dock with the Numnuts Ezy box. Really fond of it as a character driven light. The white interior is pretty rich and forgiving, unlike its cousin with the silver interior, which is naturally a touch harder and more splashy. And, even though I only met him for a few minutes, I’ll venture to say that Muddy doesn’t do splashy. Also, for reasons of air travel and price per kilo of baggage, we left behind the c-stands, and used a Manfrotto stacker stand fitted with a extension arm.

Also, it being a portrait, I was able to orchestrate wardrobe, believe it or not. I saw an old pair of yellow slicker pants in the wheelhouse of the boat Muddy was working, and asked him to wear them. The touch of yellow up front resonated well with the blue of the background sky. I didn’t go into color wheel theory with Muddy. I was just happy he was easygoing about putting them on.

We had a another early morning photo session with Rob Pennicott, the Tasmanian of the Year in 2012. An entrepreneur, environmentalist, and sailor extraordinaire, he recently completed the first circumnavigation of Australia in an outboard powered vessel. The feat was accomplished in conjunction with the Bill Gates Foundation in an effort to raise money to eradicate polio.

We got a good portrait here mostly due to Rob’s good graces, and the fact that, pesky photog that I am, I asked him to come down to the dock at 7am, instead of the 2pm slot that the tourist board had originally arranged. Two pm light from a cloudless southern sky is the rock and the hard place, simultaneously, and a portrait shot then could have easily been DOE (dead on exposure). Turned out that Di, our irrepressible guide, knew Rob and made the call. He joked on the phone about whether there would be nudity involved. I answered that, if we headed that direction, it would only be partial nudity, which he was comfortable with. He is, as they say down under, a good bloke.

And, it being a tourism type shoot, I couldn’t leave Tasmania without a portrait session with one of its most amiable and recognizable faces.

Greg Irons and Petra Harris run an animal sanctuary called Bonorong Park, where they take in orphaned or injured animal infants, nurse them back to health and then release them into the wild. With the wombat, such as Petra is holding below, this can be a two or three year process, waiting for the dawn of wombat adolescence, and its naturally rambunctious push for independence.

They are also participating in efforts to discover the cause and cure for a cancer of the mouth that has decimated the Tasmanian Devil population. Called devil facial tumor disease, it can be transmitted from critter to critter, unlike most cancers. The Tasmanian wildlife community is rallying around the devil, trying desperately to contain and eradicate the disease.

Back in Sydney now, preparing for our last Sydney workshop, to be held this Monday. After that, off to Melbourne, where we’ll be for Aussie PMA, and doing another workshop, keynote and seminar. It’ll be a super busy week, and then, home and Annie…..more tk…

Some Fun Down Under!

May 10

In Tours at 5:13am

Just having a blast in Australia, meeting with and talking to bunches of folks in the Aussie photo industry. Good bunch, as they say. ( I was going to say “bunch of blokes,” but I’ve also met a lot of terrific female photogs down here, and I haven’t been here long enough to know the female version of “bloke.” If anyone can help me out with that, please chime in.) In the Gold Coast now, doing a seminar, a keynote and a workshop over the weekend, before heading to Tasmania for Tourism Australia. Any questions, thoughts or info on tour stops and where we’ll be next, just hit this link.

Had some great talent to work with in the Sydney versions of the seminar. Below is Greg, shot at min DOF with high speed sync and small flash.

He’s a great guy, though he plays a bad ass biker in an Aussie TV series. He paired up with Leslie, a wonderful model and ballerina during the seminar.

It’s fun, actually, and a bit of a challenge, shooting live onstage in front of a couple hundred people. Everything goes right to the screen, win, lose or draw, and you rarely shoot more than one or two frames of anything. I’m mostly preoccupied with working as hard as I can to present as many solutions, problems (I’m good at creating those) and work arounds as I can during the time we have together. Like, the above, for instance, was the only frame I shot of this scene. It’s done with a Tri-flash and a Lastolite 3×6 Skylite Panel. Thankfully, TTL worked!

We also did a workshop at Vaucluse House, a historic property in Sydney.

What I often do is make a photo with larger flash, and then mimic it with small flash, which gives us all a chance to see the advantages, pitfalls, strengths and weaknesses of one approach over another. (With the full acknowledgement that there is no one, “right,” approach.) It’s all a process of experimentation, and learning as we go. Which is the heart and soul of the fun of it. More tk…

A Few Thoughts for the Weekend:-)

May 5

In Uncategorized at 12:05am

Photo by Brad Moore

This is a business of bounces, sharp turns, unexpected events, lean times, occasional joyous celebrations, and bouts of euphoria measured in slices of seconds. No matter what, be it an excellent day in the field, or a humdrum day filing pictures or doing billing, it is punctuated almost incessantly with the intrusive reality of just how difficult this is to do, over the long haul. Wonderful, but tough at the same time.

I’m the last staff photographer in the history of LIFE magazine. I had the job for a brief time in the middle 90′s and I’ve likened it to the photographic equivalent of a roller coaster ride. Intense, exhilarating, wild, constantly ironical, and relatively brief. I have to believe virtually any job in journalism nowadays is replete with almost daily irony. My boss when I joined the staff, a truly wonderful editor and wordsmith, and one of the few editors in the history of Time Life magazines who really, truly understood the value of pictures, stopped by my closet of an office at one point to tell me he was heading off on a corporate junket. Private jet to Ted Turner’s private island off the coast of Georgia, and in the middle of the this executive conclave, another private jet to Atlanta to watch a Braves playoff game from the luxury boxes. He looked at me and said, “And Joe, can you guess the reason for the meeting?” I answered without hesitation. “Cost cutting and layoffs?” He winked and nodded.

My own personal bit of irony occurred in my last year at the magazine. I won one of the first Eisie’s, for Journalist Impact, for a story called the Panorama of War, all shot in various stressed places on earth, all done with a 617 Panorama camera. (This and $2.25 gets me on the NYC subway system.)

I went to a swell party, and got a $1500 check and a sculpted Eisie eye. I thanked all concerned from the podium. The ironical part of all this was that during the week previous to the photo fete, I had been fired by LIFE. Shown the door, exited. Thanks for playing. At Time Warner, you are actually not fired. They refer to it as a “reduction in force,” or, “riffed.” I got riffed.

It was okay, actually. In my last year at the magazine, I got my kid on the cover! I was told later it didn’t do well on the newsstand but that was dad’s fault, not hers.

Cool. Once a freelancer, always a freelancer. Back on the street, once again jobless, which is a condition that has existed pretty unremittingly for me for over thirty years. I occasionally send in notes to the alumni magazine at Syracuse University when they send out missives requesting updates on the no doubt sterling state of their graduates’ careers. I simply say, after thirty plus years, Joe McNally is still jobless in the New York area.

At that point, though, I had to dig in, re-direct, and find work.

Point of the parable? No matter who you work for, LIFE, Time, the East Bramblebrook Daily Astonisher, your own blog about your own life, or just your Facebook page, you are working for yourself. You cannot take a camera in your hands and hope somebody just pulls you along. You can never feel safe, or self satisfied. If you predicate your sense of self worth, or self esteem, or fulfillment as a shooter on what somebody else does to and for you and your pictures, you will be miserable, ‘cause no one—certainly no publication—will treat your stuff the same way you would. If you hit a patch of easy street where some editor thinks you are world’s greatest picture maker and lavishes praise, high paying gigs and first class air tickets upon you, know that the editor in question will be fired.

Whatever good thing you have going as a shooter, understand this—it will evaporate, deteriorate, get worse, or just shrivel up and blow away.

Fun, huh?

The life of a shooter is driven by passion, not reason. This is not a reasonable thing to do. A colleague I know offers this advice: “If you want to do this, you have to make uncertainty your friend.” Indeed, you do.

In this life of uncertainty, it is, however, absolutely certain that some shit’s gonna happen to you. What follows below are some notions on coping.

If the angels sit on your shoulders on a particular day or job, and you knock it out of the park, feel good, giddy even, but get over it. Tomorrow’s job will be on you like a junkyard dog, and will tear the ass outta your good mood in a New York minute.

If you win a contest, appreciate it, be gracious, and give thanks to everybody involved, especially your editor and the magazine, even if they had nothing to do with it and actually did their level best to obstruct you at every turn. Contest wins give a warm fuzzy feeling inside but shrug it off ‘cause tomorrow you still have to put on your pants and go find work.

Understand that the money monitors who show up at these contest driven rubber chicken dinners and breathlessly exclaim, “Love your work!” while shaking one of your hands with both of theirs’ are simultaneously eyeballing you and wondering why you cost so much money and there’s lots of pictures out there for free nowadays and why aren’t we using them? Smile back, and be thankful to them that for a brief interlude, they lost their sense of fiscal responsibility, and somehow you got a bit of budget to do something that was terribly important originally only to you, but because you executed it with such passion and clarity, it has now become important to lots of people, given the impact of your photos.

Know that whole bunches of folks will try to take credit for everything you just did. It’s okay. You got a chance to do it.

Understand that in the world of  content-desperate big publications, and the multi-nationals that own them, that next year’s contract will be worse than this year’s. And if the contract is real, real bad, they might actually hire somebody to come in and explain why it is “good for you” in so many ways. Know that the phrase “good for you” is interchangeable with, “you’re screwed.”

(Recent update on that type of language. Lots of contracts now are accompanied by language that state that what’s being offered is in keeping with “current industry standards and norms.” For the translation of that, see the paragraph immediately above.)

Know there will be days out there that feel like you’re trying to walk in heavy clothes through a raging surf. The waves knock you about like a tenpin, you have the agility of the Michelin Man, and you take five steps just to make the progress of one. The muck you are walking in feels like concrete about to set. Even the cameras feel heavier than normal as you lift them to your (on this day) unseeing eyes.

There will be these days. You must get past them with equanimity and not allow them to destroy your love of doing this. Know on these days you are not making great art, and that every frame you shoot is not a shouted message of the truth that will echo down the corridors of time forever. You are out there with a camera, trying to survive, and shoot some stuff, however workmanlike or even outright mediocre, that will enable you to a) get paid, and b) live to fight another day.

There will be times when you cannot pay the bills. You look at your camera and desperately wish it was an ATM or the stock portfolio of a far more sensible person. Have faith. Return your phone calls. Keep shooting, if only for yourself. Actually, especially for yourself. Use this work to send out reminders that you are around and alive. Stay the course.

Love this fiercely, every day. Things change, and generally for the lonely photog, they don’t change for the better. What you are complaining about today, after the next few curves in the road you’ll recall with fond reverie. “Remember those jobs we used to get from the Evil Media Empire wire service? The ones where they paid us 50 bucks, owned all our rights, and we had to pay mileage and parking and let them use our gear for free? Remember those sumbitches? God, those were they days, huh?”

Remember we are blessed, despite the degree of difficulty. We are in the world, breathe unfiltered air, and don’t have to stare at numbers or reports trudging endlessly across a computer screen. Most businesses or business-like endeavors thrive on a certain degree of predictability, sameness and the reproducibility of results. They kinda like to know what the market’s gonna do. By contrast, we are on a tightrope, living for wildly unlikely split second successes, and actually hoping those magic convergences of luck, timing and observation will never, ever be reproduced again.

We don’t know what’s gonna happen, and most of the time, when it does, we miss it. Or what we think we’re waiting for actually never happens. It’s anxiety producing, and laced with forehead slapping frustration. If we were a stock or a bond, we would undoubtedly get a junk rating. Not a smart pick, no, not at all.

But what a beautifully two edged sword this is! What shreds your hopes one day cuts back, just sometimes, and offers up something to your lens that’s the equivalent of paddles to the chest. Clear! You’re alive again, and the bad stuff and horrible frames fall away like dead leaves in an autumn rain.

At those moments, the camera is no longer this heavy box filled with mysterious numbers, dials and options. It is an extension of your head and your heart, and works in concert with them. Whereas many times you look through the lens and see only doubt, at these times, you see with clarity, precision, and absolute purpose.

Know these moments occur only occasionally. Treasure them. They make all the bad stuff worth it. They make this the best thing to do, ever.

More tk…

(A good deal of the above is reprinted from a book called Sketching Light. I hope the author doesn’t get teed off I swiped it.)