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

The Long Walk of Photography

Aug 14

In Rambling at 7:29am


 I’ve got perhaps the ugliest legs in the world. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were these. I’m actually sorta proud of how shabby their appearance is.

I grew up in an era, photographically, when we just didn’t know any better. We routinely carried 30-40 pound Domke bags around with us on one shoulder, turning spines into S curves, and what might have once been a normal gait into a disconnected shamble. Hell, I even used Anvil cases for a while there. Mishandle one of those getting it out of the trunk and it can snap a shin like dead twig.

These appendages have been operated on three times, had four casts, numerous tears, a couple of breaks, and a couple hundred stitches. I’ve been bitten by dogs three times, once really viciously. And, of course, I’ve put both my knees through the shredder known as thirty-five years of photography. You’re looking at the support structure for a condemned building.

All these damaging shenanigans means that, for quite a while, I’ve ambled about (that’s a generous description) like Walter Brennan. Last year, we finished a long, hard wedding and about 3am I sort of belayed my way down the block towards the studio truck, where Drew and Cali were waiting. Drew remarked, “You look like an old, sad, tired, injured rodeo clown.”

And these are the guys on my staff, who are actually paid to tolerate me. Can you imagine some reactions clients might have had when I did my scrape-thud, scrape-thud into their office? They hire me, thinking they’re getting this versatile, venerable lensman, and Igor shows up. “Walk this way!” All I’m missing is the hump, and I’m working on that.

One of these days, perhaps the knife, though not for now. No real guarantees that afterwards I can resume my side job as an Olympic pole-vaulter. Annie got me a Fitbit bracelet I’ve been wearing lately, which detects your daily travel, and during my last Kelby seminar day I walked over seven miles. And, coming soon, is news of another tough climb. So, I’m still in the game. I opted for the more temporary stay of execution of injections of a synthetic type of WD-40 for my knees, mixed with cortisone. A happy hour cocktail for my joints!

So yesterday they injected this slippery stuff into the structure of both my knees with a large bore needle that looks like they might have swiped it from the turret of a Sherman tank.  (Hence the bandaids in the above pic.) Then the doc hit the plunger and the stuff sloshes in there. I keep thinking it might be like that adherent black goo from Spiderman III, the evil slime that overtook the already dark heart of the Peter Parker’s photo staffer replacement, Eddie Brock, the one who dummied up fake pictures of Spidey slinging bad juju all over town, and got turned into the creepy character, Venom. I wonder if I’ll wake up and my knees will have fangs.

The doc did a great job with the injections, though, admitting as he worked that he really, really hates needles, and can’t stand getting injected himself. I asked him if he’s ever sought counseling about this elephant sized irony sitting in the middle of his life, and he merrily replied no. He did say that his fear of needles makes him an excellent injection specialist, though, ‘cause he’s very sympathetic about what the patient has to endure. Makes sense, actually.

We’ll see if this works, and helps forestall the inevitable consequences of a life trundling around cases of filled with the scrap iron of photo gear. I’ve still got more buildings to climb, and pictures to make, and I’m sure many of them are miles away, but worth walking after. More tk….



89 Responses to “The Long Walk of Photography”

anton carstens says:

on August 14, 2013 at 5:55 pm

And I thought I was bad. Hang in there bud it will get better

andy comins says:

on August 14, 2013 at 6:54 pm

It might have been mentioned, but you can now have stem cells drawn from your bone marrow, spun, and injected into points of pain. There is also a treatment called PRP which has something to do with blood plasma. As a one-time 2;49 NYC marathoner, I’m keen to sign up.

JerseyStyle Photography says:

on August 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm

50 lb Dommke bags perhaps…what about the time you were squatting 405 lbs down at the Gold’s Gym in Venice, CA? Me and Lou Ferrigno were there..we saw it. ;-)

Yikes. I hate needles.

~ Mark

Sandipan Das says:

on August 14, 2013 at 7:46 pm

god bless you,

wish u get heal soon..up and running

Jon Adaskin says:

on August 14, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I have really bad vein problems from being on my feet for so many years. I find now when doing portraits that I sit to do them. Being 375 lbs doesn’t help either.
Hope you get some relief.

Jim Donahue says:

on August 14, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Have You ever considered up to the neck support hose?

Joe Howe says:

on August 14, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Hey Joe
I’ve seen nicer legs on a piano.
Seriously, I’ve had my share of knee injuries and subsequent surgeries. I can literally say I feel your pain.

Joe Howe

Sanjib Karmakar says:

on August 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm

There are many reasons, for you to get well.Your family loves and needs you, we need you.
There’s lots of work to do. Tons of lighting knowledge are left to learn from you. Get well quick, u lazy bum.

Take very good care of yourself. Follow all post operative instructions of your doctor without fail.
God bless you.

Fadi Kelada says:

on August 15, 2013 at 12:19 am

Very honoured to know you Joe and seeing how much you go through makes me think the very long way waiting ahead. Thank you..

Christina says:

on August 15, 2013 at 12:28 am

You made me smile at the simple truths about life and photography, as usual. I hope the treatment works and feel better soon! Take care of yourself.

Simon says:

on August 15, 2013 at 1:52 am

Considering the range of adventures you have participated in thus far those pins don’t look too bad Joe…

Hope the jabs provide you with a well deserved mileage and performance boost.

T.L. says:

on August 15, 2013 at 5:27 am

I’ve got one more round of shots like that next week. I end up getting it done about every 6 months (for the past 4 years now). Hope it helps and you get more years of service out of your knees.

Ian says:

on August 15, 2013 at 6:25 am

What about auditioning as a model for KFC?

I don’t know how you keep smiling through the pain, but I wish you a speedy recovery and many more pain-free miles.

PS I bet you had an acidic response to the rodeo-clown comment :0)

Jill Flusemann says:

on August 15, 2013 at 7:53 am

Joe, we will never stay down! My neck fusion came apart and slid into my spinal cord, I go in for 4th spinal fusion in my neck tomorrow morning! Best of wishes and we will find ways to keep going if we crawl there!

Ben says:

on August 15, 2013 at 11:22 am

Let me preface this by saying that I’m one of the “lucky” 10-15% of Osgood-Schlatter’s alumni whose knees never quite healed from the disease. Put another way, I’m about to turn 36 and I haven’t lived a day in my life since the age of 13 without knee pain. This includes stints playing rugby, playing guitar (and hauling amps and racks), and working as a gaffer and a grip (and hauling that gear). Being 6’4″ and 270 lbs has not made this situation any better – folding myself into an airplane seat for anything longer than an hour flight, for example, means I’ve got a couple of days before my knees feel “normal” again. I’ve lost count of the number of doctors who have “treated” my problem, usually with a scrip for one pill or another, and I’ve had em all. No thank you.

In the last month I’ve been working out at a new gym doing boot camp classes. My trainer modifies any impact exercise to eliminate stress on the knee, but more importantly, he has shown me why my knees hurt (muscular imbalance going on for 20+ years), and hooked me up with stretches and exercises,including foam rolling, aimed at eliminating my pain. I’m one month into this, and I’m delighted to say that my knees feel better than they have for as long as I can remember. I can now descend a staircase without pain. This is nothing short of a miracle.

I slept on whether or not to post this, because I don’t want to be one of those guys poo-poo-ing doctors and shots and cortisone and steroids and the like, because I believe they have their place. But, Joe, you’ve given me (and countless others) eloquently written free advice for so long, that I’d regret not sharing this in the hopes that if it doesn’t help you, it helps someone else. I’m living proof that “unfixable knee pain” can be fixed without needles, scalpels, or pills. I realize my route isn’t for everyone. And if it doesn’t help you, hopefully it helps a fellow reader. Cheers.

Stuart Patterson says:

on August 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Joe – Let me know what you think of the FitBit Flex after using it a while. Thinking about getting one as a motivator for more exercise.

Eric says:

on August 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm

When I saw those legs I thought that this was another post about a ballerina.

Rick Saez says:

on August 15, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Good on ya Joe, I have similar knees from years of hiking, climbing, skiing etc. A few surgeries as well. Been getting these injections for about a year now and they are AWESOME. A new lease on life . . . at least until they figure out how to slip replacement cushioning washer in there, enjoy!

Joe McNally says:

on August 15, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Many thanks, to Ben and all the other folks who have commented on my lamentable legs! They still carry me forward, and I hope they hang in there! All the best to all!

Renie says:

on August 15, 2013 at 5:03 pm

OMG – Joe, I gotta admire the diversionary tactics of NOT feeling/watching that slimmy goo being injected by asking the Doc about his own physical/mental/emotional issues. You know how to get into a person’s head!

You take care of those precious legs that will carry you on to many more “McNally” adventures!

You’re awesome!

Bill Bogle Jr. says:

on August 15, 2013 at 9:02 pm


Quite a self portrait. Again, you out kicked your coverage with Annie. I got a Fitbit about a month ago. Good for the gentle nudge to keep moving.I have a shoulder like your knee. It locked up once – a frozen shoulder – that physical therapy could not fix. The orthopedist gave me a cortizone injection with what I swear was a turkey baster with a piece of pipe attached to it. Never thought it would work, but it unfroze it, and got back to functionality with more PT. Got to take care of yourself. You are too valuable a resource for all of us.

But as we tell our kids.

Be careful when you take and post your selfies. Lots of people will see it.


Colin says:

on August 15, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Wishing you, your knees and those around you well.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us so openly. I can see why you connect so well with people and produce the amazing images you do.
Don’t suffer too much for art.
Take care!

Gordon Moat says:

on August 16, 2013 at 1:31 am

I hate to say I know the feeling, but I do. Going on about 20 months of physical therapy to avoid shoulder surgery, on a shoulder that was repaired over a decade ago with five pieces of titanium. I honestly miss carrying my biggest camera backpack, but I’m beginning to realize I need to cut down the weight my body carries. Oh yeah, both knees already “cleaned-up” through arthroscopic surgeries in the 1990s, mostly due to overuse (right) and one bad accident (left). It’s back to the orthopedic doctor for me on Monday for some cortisone in the shoulder. Really hope you feel better soon.

Don says:

on August 16, 2013 at 9:22 am

I don’t remember who said this, but it was given at a commencement speech”take care of your knees, your going to need them”. As one of a similar age I feel your pain and should of taken better care of all my joints.

Bob Davis says:

on August 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Hey Joe,

Thanks for sharing at Skip’s U. It’s always inspirational listening to you. I share a similar path, many un-published great stories while I was on staff at the Chicago Sun-Times for 14 years. Now, no more photographers there, just reporters with iPhones.

I don’t think of you as an old rodeo clown! As long as you keep pursing the next image and strive for excellence you’re never too old. Keep the joy juice flowing in your knees.



Troy Woods says:

on August 17, 2013 at 12:05 am

Feel better Joe. Thanks for sharing.


John G says:

on August 17, 2013 at 9:36 am

Joe, I hate to pour gasoline on a fire but damn, look at those wrinkly hands. Once we reach a certain age, we begin to understand why the Spaniards risked their lives 500 years ago looking everywhere for the fountain of youth.

Joe McNally says:

on August 17, 2013 at 6:26 pm

the hands have seen alot of miles, too, John…for sure….

Jerome Yeats says:

on August 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Dear Joe, My legs are prettier than yours from the front but turn me round and I have varicose veins in my left leg. I am a bit older than you. yes a press photographer – you remember how heavy a 600m Nikkor could be? Came in two halves? And the 1500 Watt flash packs?, I could go on. My own knees need seeing to but I refuse to have surgery because of possible MRSA or worse. I work out, jog and row. I know I shouldn’t but I do. And for a while it’s all ok but yes, coming down stairs as a poster said. Its like a spear in the knee. At least the pain reminds us we are alive. Good luck and keep on going, and I hope you get better.

evden eve nakliyat says:

on August 18, 2013 at 6:02 pm

sizi dinlemek zevk veriyor başarılarınızın devamını bekliyoruz

Chris says:

on August 26, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Damn. I hope you are feeling ok. I practice medicine as an NP during the day, but shoot weddings on weekends (passionate 2nd job). I also run 6 days/week and fear this will be my fate in 20 years. Get well soon! -Chris

Theresa says:

on September 3, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Hope the injections work. If you aren’t floating around in a few days, it may be worth trying physical therapy. The therapists work miracles strenthening the muscles around your knees so you almost don’t need for your knees to actually work. My story may be different from yours, but I now have moments where I’m filled with the simple joy of movement. Moments where it is easy to move and pain free. You should have moments when movement is as easy and fluid as that of the dancers you photograph. (It only seems fair.) Wishing you the best.

Brett says:

on September 4, 2013 at 1:37 am

My knees are OK until I kneel down to long, but my back and neck are always hurting, it,s the dark side of photography that no one talks about.

Bob LaRouche says:

on September 4, 2013 at 9:43 am

Joe: thanks for the words as well as pictures. My legs got unbowed after knee replacement but better yet when I became a photo editor. Lasted 43 years at the St Louis POST DISPATCH.
Still teaching photojournalism at Webster University. I admire your grit and cojones – be careful up there, old friend. 7a.m. at the top of the tower.Wow.

Damien says:

on September 5, 2013 at 5:39 pm

I remember when you came to the National Ignition facility a few years ago. You were moving around quite gingerly, and I think it was Cali who said he had broken you down with his cross-over dribble during a game of hoops. Then we went on to talk about your basketball playing days and the time you played at Rucker Park. Who would of thought that a career in photography would have your poor knees in more pain than a career in the NBA. Take care of yourself, and I hope to see you again in the future.

K Brown says:

on September 7, 2013 at 3:00 am

Shots don’t work, had plenty, all you get is the fear you’ll jerk your leg and break off the needle under your knee.cap.
Bet you have the House of Horrors sound effects collection every time you bend your knees too.

If it weren’t for the reduction in flexibility with new knee joints, I’d have had mine replaced years ago.

Move somewhere warm and sunny, where they don’t have a word for winter, it worked for me.

Mario says:

on September 10, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Let us know how to find you on fitbit… love to have you in the weekly rankings!

Sam says:

on September 30, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Maybe you have to lose weight Joe to help your knees. I think it’s good for your overall health as well. I think David Ziser is doing it. That may mean going easy on the beer :-)

Maxine says:

on May 20, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Yikes, Joe! How’s the knee now?

Leave a Reply