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How Am I Doing?

Feb 1

In history, Memories at 11:02am

His trademark phrase went with him everywhere. He was the steward of the city during some tough times, before it became Wall Street’s darling handmaiden, and the very ground known as Manhattan started burping money out to any developer armed with a backhoe and a variance to build something, anything, anywhere. He was gregarious, controversial, desperate to be liked, a charmer of the press, a cheerleader for the Big Apple, and a dream to cover.

He held the reins of the city back when nobody wanted to know the West Side Story, and for instance, the subways, instead of being the relatively clean, silvery train cars of today, with actual air conditioning in the summer, instead were graffiti laden hot boxes on wheels that jolted along dangerously dark and dank tubes. There was a lot of human theater played out in those cars, and scenes like the ones below occurred on a regular basis.

Subway riders had to negotiate the occasional stiff on the platform as well as late, smelly, overcrowded cars. Truth be told, up above, on the sidewalks, it wasn’t much better.

But, even in the darkest of days, when the till was empty and New York veered towards chaos, Ed was out there, banging the drum, cajoling, cackling, insulting (he could be acid-tongued), desperately trying to wrangle a chorus of huzzahs for the city, and ultimately, for him. If you had an issue with either of those, you got a Bronx cheer. Love him or hate him, he was New York to the core.

I wrote about him in the Moment It Clicks, a story about a fine morning, when it was good to be a photog, and hang with the mayor.

I was assigned to do a very simple picture of the former mayor of New York, Ed Koch. I loved Ed. He loved people, New York and the camera. He’s got a rubber face and a winning smile. He’s also a good guy, plain and simple.

The job was one of those rare easy ones. It was a story about Gracie Mansion, the official home of the mayor of New York. The magazine wanted me to re-create an old picture of legendary NY mayor Fiorella LaGuardia on the lawn in front of the house. It had to be shot in early morning, and Ed had to stand in the same spot as LaGuardia. We were blessed with good light.

The picture took minutes, and Ed said his thank yous and goodbyes. While we were packing up, he came back out on the porch, and called to us. “Would any of you like some blueberry pie?”

It took about a half a second to say yes. Next thing we know, we’re in the kitchen, having coffee and pie with the mayor of NY.

How cool is that? I mean, who the hell else gets to do this stuff?  Savor those mornings, when the light is clear and the picture effortless, and we are breathing the air and we are in the world, not a fluorescent lit cubicle,  staring at a parade of meaningless numbers race across a screen. We’re photographers, and everybody else wants to be us.

Rest in peace, Ed. More tk…..

31 Responses to “How Am I Doing?”

JerseyStyle Photography says:

on February 1, 2013 at 11:37 am

What a nice remembrance. What a great blueberry pie story. Thanks.
~ Mark

DQ says:

on February 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm

he was a good guy. amazing that you have such ready access to your archive.

“everyone else wants to be us,” until they sit in our chair, staring at the monitor, wondering who is going to give us something to shoot, anything, so we can write and invoice and pay the rent. not everyone’s as good as you, Joe, as blessed with talent and the gift of gab and the innate DRIVE… it’s a double edged sword, for sure. we don’t want to do anything else, and often we can’t, but man, when the phone don’t ring or you lose a nice job to someone else. well that, you have to be honest here, man, ain’t so very sweet.

just my two cents… not that i don’t love ya…

Dave says:

on February 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm

A character photographing a character. Whipped cream on the pie? Surprised it wasn’t a Big Apple pie.

George D says:

on February 1, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Joe – to me your writing is as good as the imagery you capture with a lens. Thanks for this.

Joe McNally says:

on February 1, 2013 at 2:41 pm

There are down days, to be sure. I’ve been up, down and sideways in the business, and there have been long stretches when I’ve been broker than a church mouse, and had few prospects and less work. The only thing that has kept me going at those times, I have to say, at least a bit, was the simple fact that I don’t know how to do anything else. The choice was pretty stark. Stick it out and make it work, or try my hand at something I was completely unfamiliar with, and probably ill suited to do…all best and hang in there….Joe

Arie says:

on February 1, 2013 at 2:59 pm

You give beautiful eulogies Joe.

Omar D. Rivero says:

on February 1, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Words to live by Joe. Thanks for the hard earned wisdom.

Bob says:

on February 1, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Joe ~ you did it again. I smiled and I welled up at your tender remembrance. You are a real mensch. Thanks, Bob

steve bryson says:

on February 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Joe, I have to say that if you do ever put down the camera I believe you’d have no less an impact in the literary world.

Stewart Ransom says:

on February 1, 2013 at 3:36 pm

JOE, Its a good thing you dont know anything else and stuck with the photogrsphy. Without you I would have a few less books on my shelf and lighting dvds on my dvd player.not to mention numerous workshops including one you wete sitting all the way in the back right next to me while Scott Kelby did his lighting seminar. If you dont do what you love it shows in your work
Thanks

robert hart says:

on February 1, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Joe, nice photo!!!

What a great guy he was and not too proud to do a cameo in Ricky Skagg’s 1985 music video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h5ydMEfnJI

I’d rather starve as a photographer than thrive in a cubicle. And currently, I’m on track!!!

;)

rhart

Nikolay says:

on February 1, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Hi Joe,

It’s so nice to meet such people who make you feel that you are surrounded by proper humans not some commercial creatures. Unfortunately now days this kind of social relations between people are so rare.
I also like to say that I really admire you Joe. It’s amazing the amount of energy you are putting into every of your projects.

Thanks.
Nikolay.

Brandt Steinhauser says:

on February 1, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I don’t have much to add. The previous comments say it all. I’m just appreciative that you share your experiences.

JON THALER says:

on February 2, 2013 at 6:46 am

JOE,

I HAVE BEEN A FAN OF YOURS AND FOLLOWED YOU FOR A WHILE. I AM ALSO ED KOCH’S NEPHEW. THANKS FOR POSTING PHOTOS OF ED. I WILL FORWARD THEM TO THE FAMILY. I’M SURE MY MOTHER (ED’S SISTER PAT THALER) WILL ENJOY THEM.

JON THALER

Brian Wilson says:

on February 2, 2013 at 9:28 am

Beautiful story, Joe. I particularly love the last line. That needs to be on a sign over the door in the studio!

Kevin says:

on February 2, 2013 at 9:49 am

Joe
thanks for sharing this was a very touching peace and as much as I hate to admit it a great little history blurb. I can not believe I am old enough to talk about people and events in my life as history. great piece great images

thanks for shaing

Harald Harnang says:

on February 2, 2013 at 10:20 am

Hi Joe. I for sure agree with George above: your writing is as good as the imagery you capture with a lens. Thanks for this. All the best from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and high up north.

Mike Neale says:

on February 2, 2013 at 3:09 pm

As always, Joe,…your heart reflects in your Image Statements,…and your words come straight from your soul,…thank you for sharing both.

mn

Joe McNally says:

on February 2, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Please give Ed’s family my best at this sad time for them…all the best. Ed was an original, never will be another like him….Joe

Karen B says:

on February 3, 2013 at 6:52 am

Once again, great story told with your pictures and your words. Stick it out and make it work…and savor each day!

Tonia says:

on February 3, 2013 at 8:05 am

He will be truly missed by real New Yorkers everywhere. His passing reminds me of President Regan’s passing. These men were apart of my childhood and sort of tiny intro into politics. Their larger than personas matching their accomplishments. You said it best you either loved him or hated him and the consensus in my family was that we liked him. He was still the mayor of all mayors in many a New Yorkers book!

Dominic says:

on February 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm

As usual a wonderful perspective both visually and in your words. I feel as though those blueberry pie moments offset the darker side of our non-picture-taking moments; the invoicing, the emails, the editing.

They help remind us of the privilege we often have when involved with recording history, whether in someone’s backyard or at the center of the world’s attention.

Michael Fischer says:

on February 3, 2013 at 11:26 pm

I live in Iowa, so I never knew the mayor. However, as a student of politcs, I loved Ed. Guy was a natural. New York was truly blessed that Ed wanted to be mayor. Great story on the blueberry pie. Said a lot about Ed, and, for that matter, a lot about you, Joe. He wouldn’t have done it if you acted like… what’s a word Ed would use … yes.. there it is … like a putz.

RIP Mr. Mayor. You were one of a kind. Thanks for sharing, Joe.

Steve Franklin says:

on February 4, 2013 at 8:19 am

Joe – great story, thanks for sharing.

I’m a guy in the UK but we’re not all so blind that we don’t know what happens elsewhere on the planet! I remember the stories years ago about NY being on it’s uppers and the press coverage of the guy that helped turned things around.

Some good obituries in the UK press about Ed but your feature brought things to life.

Cheers, Buddy!

Mark Carruthers says:

on February 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Well said…

Adrian says:

on February 6, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Joe, love your books and the blog. I gotta admit though, every time I read one of these awesome, behind the scenes stories it makes me hate my 9-5 just a little bit more. :)

Rick Lewis says:

on February 6, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Truly a great man, both the mayor and the photographer. Thank you Ed and thank you Joe.

Stuart Macrae says:

on February 7, 2013 at 5:03 am

Having the vision and ambition to capture memorable images is indeed a gift and one which we should never take for granted, we all aspire to be better photographers, always learning, looking for THE shot, if such a thing exists……..
With skill comes responsibility.

Ken says:

on February 7, 2013 at 11:04 am

Joe, as always, your words are superb. While not a New York City resident, your words gave me goosebumps. Keep up the great work….

jim mcd says:

on February 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Thanks Joe for the very moving memorial about a man who made a difference. This memorial reflects on your own character, Joe. An individual who inspires, is honest and sharing (both in photography & words). Thanks, again.

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