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Off to a Rip Roaring Start!

Jan 6

In Rambling at 5:46am

A great way to start off the year! We got a check for the use of one of my pictures, evidently a photo of a “man using laptop computer.” Awesome! With funds like this coming almost every once in a while, we are set. 

I don’t know who bought it, and I don’t know who sold it. The check came from a big publishing house which is known to consort with Getty Pictures, so I have to imagine Getty, the omnipresent octopus of picture sales, is involved in some way.

I have this imagination, I guess you’d call it, about my pictures now, given Getty’s dominating presence in the field, and that family name’s history in the oil business. I conjure that my snaps now run in pipelines around the world, just like crude, but a lot less valuable, and get sloshed onto ocean going freighters, flying the Libyan flag, crewed by a vivid collection of multi-national sailors, insured out of the Netherlands and financed through the Bank of the Caymans. They get transported here and there, and get sold at colorfully vibrant outdoor markets in port cities, say, on the west coast of Africa, pictures by the pound, auctioned off somewhere in between the livestock sales and bull semen futures. The sale gets rung up and then chopped, sliced, diverted, rounded off and otherwise divvied up among unknown but certainly necessary parties, and what makes its way back to my studio through routes apparently as circuitous as the Silk Road, is a remuneration, a sum, a check….for $1.32.

The actual arrival of such an amount usually snaps me out of my admittedly nonsensical reverie, and refocuses me on the question facing us every year: How do we do this?

January is always interesting. Once again, I feel like a weary, overweight Wallenda, stepping out on the wire once more, balance pole firmly in hand, studio staff perched precariously like railbirds on either side of the pole, looking at me nervously. I tell them it’ll be okay, fun, even. I don’t think they completely believe me.

If I were an airplane pilot, I would simply get on the intercom and tell everybody to expect “turbulence for the whole year.”

What is the goal? To make it to 2015? That’s worthwhile to be sure, but hardly an inspired rallying cry. I mean, you wouldn’t imagine a legendary commander, grasping a blood soaked saber in one hand, tattered regimental banner in the other, standing on the smoking ruins of a battlefield, outcome teetering on the brink, urging the lads to follow him into the breach of fire with a cry of, “Let’s make it to 2015!”

I have to admit the uncertainty of it all, not knowing where we’re going, and unsure if we’ll make it, is, for me, part of the fun. (I have a very stretchable definition of “fun.”) I have occasionally closed slide shows with a text frame that, referring to the notion of being a photog, says, “This is a journey without a destination,” which is something a colleague said to me long ago, and has proved true.

The young guys in the studio give me shit about this all the time, of course. On particularly confused days here at the shop, when none of us can find our ass with both hands, and we just lost a job we were bidding on, and someone else canceled some dates we had been holding, and we are definitely feeling like the statue and not the pigeon, it has happened that one of the staff exclaims, “It’s okay, guys. Remember, this is a journey without a destination!” Chuckles all around.

In riposte, I generally offer two words back, and they ain’t “Happy Birthday.”

Everyone seeks survival in this business in many ways shapes and forms, now that many of the tried and true channels of assigning, selling and shipping pictures have morphed into something else or disappeared. For our part, we do pretty much what everybody else does. We shoot, teach, blog, sell fine art prints, lecture, send out proposals, have meetings, chat things up on social media, send out promos, talk with clients, send in estimates, and then re-shape those estimates, sometimes endlessly. Nothing about it is rocket science. After all that, we peer into the mailbox and see if anybody sent a check, and the perpetually imperfect calculus of this business is upon us once again. 

But it’s also a miraculous calculus, at the same time. I am still tickled by the fact that I have made a career, gotten paid, put food on the table and a roof overhead by….shooting pictures. It’s still quite thrilling, actually, even at the above rates. So once again, here at the studio, we will shoulder the cameras and resolve to:

Try to do some good work this year. Be straight up with all concerned. Be fair and decent to all the folks around us. For my part, I’ll continue to attempt to be at peace with the absolute certainty that some of my pictures this year will be good, and others will outright suck. I’ll continue to let the ever blessed Lynn pick up the phone, as her good nature, inherent decency, wonderful demeanor, and absolute, fair minded precision with clients is the only way we stay in business. Lord knows where we’d be if I picked up the line even some of the time.

I understand fully at this point the Sisyphean task at hand. I will never shoot my “best” picture. That will always be in the future, out there, like a mirage, receding continuously, even as I stumble towards it, parched and half delirious at the prospect of that potentially momentous click. In the meantime, I will attempt to avoid shooting my worst picture. 

Most of all, I will remain in love with making pictures, still or moving, and consequently, in love with the whole idea of being asked to go out into the world and hopefully see it in a good, interesting, vibrant, refreshing, quirky, or daresay even a memorable way. What an inconclusive, open ended, impossibly wonderful task.

I’ll continue to do this because I love doing it, and because, truthfully, I really don’t know how to do anything else. There are bound to be pictures out there in the year of 2014, and hopefully, I’ll shoot a few of them.

More tk….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

98 Responses to “Off to a Rip Roaring Start!”

Scott Duncan says:

on January 6, 2014 at 6:07 am

I have to say, your year started off better than mine. Maybe by a few cents at least. That is hilarious.

I enjoy your photos Joe. All the best to you this year.

David Carrigan says:

on January 6, 2014 at 6:44 am

That’s hilkarious. My title when I repost this will be “At least he gets a royalty check when people use his photos” lol. You are about a million dollars ahead of many photographers out here with 1.32 check!

Robert says:

on January 6, 2014 at 6:48 am

Interesting read. As a “wish I could be a pro” amateur photographer I guess I never thought that someone such as yourself would have to worry about the next assignment or the next sale. Looking forward to what else you may have in future entries as I know your videos have been very good to watch.

Leighton says:

on January 6, 2014 at 6:52 am

Wow Joe, you write as well as you shoot! Hang in there, and happy birthday!

Robert Balmer says:

on January 6, 2014 at 6:58 am

It’s great to know that as I’m just starting out on my photography business that my mentors and heroes have the same feelings as myself.
Nothing in this world lasts forever especially in this ever changing world of photography but the one thing that won’t change is our love and need to shoot.

Thanks Numnuts for all the inspiration you’ve given me this past year and good luck with the your future my friend :-)

Raul Kling says:

on January 6, 2014 at 7:02 am

I was sure my $11 start with Getty was very modest :-)

JT says:

on January 6, 2014 at 7:18 am

On the upside they didn’t discount “man working on laptop”.
Tender mercies and all that.
I guess.

Thierry Dehove says:

on January 6, 2014 at 7:44 am

Bonne Année à vous et toute votre Famille Joe = Happy New Year to you and all your Family Joe ;)

Marios Forsos says:

on January 6, 2014 at 7:56 am

“Let’s make it to 2015″…yeah, not a rallying cry, for sure, but sometimes, amidst the rubble and the chaos, when, as Kipling would say, “…all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you”, then making it to that next peak can be a wonderful goal, worthwhile of all our efforts and a reward in itself… And for those of us WAAAY back there, seeing you crest that next hill is, sometimes, all the inspiration we need…;-)

Happy new year Joe!

Christine says:

on January 6, 2014 at 8:09 am

I like the way you write :)

Erik Cooper says:

on January 6, 2014 at 8:26 am

After watching videos and researching your work, followed then by this read, I stand with confidence in my choice of this pursuit and profession. I’m becoming a huge fan of your world view through a box and glass. The great drive that so many of us have will lead to many inspirational captures throughout 2014. Here’s to a balance of magnificent vision along with subtle awareness of snaps all around. Happy new year!
E

Terry Clark says:

on January 6, 2014 at 8:27 am

Thanks, Joe, you’ve said everything many (most) of us are feeling. We are living in interesting times. Everything is in turmoil. And I can’t wait to go out and shoot it all. Maybe, if lucky, even find someone willing to part with a few shekels to allow me a piece of bread in the process. But if not, so be it, I’ll find a way because this way is the only way I know. Head up and camera high.

Happy new year to you!

Fotodog says:

on January 6, 2014 at 8:28 am

Baby steps they always say. Our journey is full of baby steps.

Great post, Joe! Another example of what it is we are up against and that it is all about journey for us. And at least we have the images for others who were not able to join us.

Have a great 2014. I look forward to tagging along on your journey, if only through the web.

Daniel Shortt says:

on January 6, 2014 at 8:30 am

Joe,

you have a very interesting mind. The way you string thoughts together makes me wonder what goes through your head on a daily basis. Out of that comes a genius mind for creating images that inspires so many(myself included)to develop and grow. I hope that you can take some solace in that, I imagine a check of that nature might feel like a comical low blow.

Daniel.

Jorge R Gonzalez says:

on January 6, 2014 at 8:31 am

Thank you Mr. McNally, that was a great read at the stert of my day. My son and I laughed our self silly at the breakfast table as I read your post out loud.

MikeScott says:

on January 6, 2014 at 8:59 am

Hey, if you can keep checks like this coming in all year, one a day – every day, you’ll have nearly $482. Pretty sweet.

Jeff Remas says:

on January 6, 2014 at 9:12 am

Looking at the picture of that check once again reminded me why I removed every single image from every stock agency that I was selling on. In a way, for what we get paid, we are “whoring” ourselves which contributed to the significant change that this industry has experienced. I will no longer get emails when a photo is sold telling me that I just made $0.18 which is nothing short of demoralizing. Good day Joe and Happy New year. Press on.

Emily Bristor says:

on January 6, 2014 at 9:27 am

This incident shows one of the differences between a pro like Joe and an aspiring one like me. I got an email from Pixoto saying that I’d made $0.25 for a stock sale. Woo-Hoo, I’m in business!

Have a great year, Joe!

Jason Grow says:

on January 6, 2014 at 9:40 am

True these words are, Joe. It’s definitely a wild ride most of the time… not for the easily queasy!!

Bobby Burgess says:

on January 6, 2014 at 9:50 am

Don’t spend it all in one place.

ted mangione says:

on January 6, 2014 at 9:54 am

I received a $0.24 check from Verizon last week as part of my reward for a class action suit. OK, not for photography but still…

Good post, Joe. Interesting, as I am the same age as you and came up at the same time. Knew people who knew you, and heard you were completely focused and driven. And alas, that’s why you’re “famous” and probably have a LOT more money in the bank than me.

Anyhow, I somehow survived, raised a family, put kids through college… one assignment at a time… click. click. click.

To all of you starting out, what Joe says is true — not that you have any doubt. It is a life full of uncertainty and stress and, yes, some dark periods. Just 2 or 3 years ago I finally realized that it’s a great way to live! Making your living based on how you see the world in two dimensions, how crazy is that? But man, those prior 30 years, while they had their highlights, did have long periods where the next big assignment just didn’t materialize.

Signed,

Ted (duh, not my real name)

John A. says:

on January 6, 2014 at 10:02 am

Funny how you can make the reception of a miniscule check such a humorous and positive thing. Hope you receive a hundred thousand or so more of these this year (perhaps in larger sums) and get some good pictures too! Looking forward to living vicariously through your experiences this year… at least the good parts you write about. :)

Barry Donovan says:

on January 6, 2014 at 10:20 am

Is the photo of the check for “Man Working on Laptop” taken with the check laying on the laptop a coincidence or another whimsical Joe McNally “production”. Love your work and your training…have a great year!

Hal Mola says:

on January 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

Thank you Joe for your words of inspiration. I save comments like these and pull them up when I feel like giving up. And then go back to living the dream.

Veli Rickhard Ojala says:

on January 6, 2014 at 11:14 am

I bet we’ll do just fine @ 2014, just keep on envolving. All the best to you Joe from here cold Finland :)

-Veli

Mike says:

on January 6, 2014 at 11:31 am

It probably won’t make you feel any better, but I read your article and replaced the word photography with my business (website design and content creation) and it rung just as true.

I think this is the way the world is going for most in the field of content creation and design.

Up until last year, our company had an all-you-can-eat Thinkstock account. This year we turned it off because I decided we were being part of the problem. We’re trying to work more with local photographers to get what we need (and better quality). When we do use stock, we buy images as one-offs, which is more expensive for us and the client, but I always assume it means the photog at the end of the line makes more to.

Craig Lee McAllester says:

on January 6, 2014 at 11:35 am

Congrats!! Take the rest of the week off Joe!

Bruce Philpott says:

on January 6, 2014 at 11:35 am

You a word out of your resolution, Joe. That’s “inspire.” Your images inspire thousands of people. It’s a word I’ve long thought should describe the job of teacher. Not just to instruct, but to inspire. I look forward to your images of 2014.

Marv Ross says:

on January 6, 2014 at 11:37 am

After reading about your Rip Roaring Start to the New Year I am once again amazed that Lynn has not gotten a call from Lorne Michaels, who, on his knees, is begging you for an appearance on Saturday Night Live.

Patricia Wiskur says:

on January 6, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Your post, refreshing and candid, which is so great about you. I attended a pre-conference photo session you taught at a NAPP conference several years back. Loved it. I fell in love with your photography when I read about you in Susan McCartney’s book on Flash and saw your indoor-outdoor shot of a student in lab coat (NY’s Stuyvesant HS for Life) holding a gleaming beaker, with the outside NY cityscape lit up like a Christmas tree. Your innovation never ceases to amaze me. Here’s to a great 2014!

Kelvin Hammond says:

on January 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm

But, On the other hand (think “Topol”), imagine if this business we are in was like the Olympics, and you had something like 10-12 years to break a world record at producing your best image in an attempt to beat all comers… THAT would suck exponentially worse. At least at this point, even the Russian judges are giving you a 9.3 :)

Randy says:

on January 6, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Don’t forget to give a cut to the tax man!

Robert Lynch says:

on January 6, 2014 at 12:46 pm

You shot “man using laptop computer”? You should have a chat with David Hobby. He’s been passing that off as a self portrait for years.

Ginny Hirst says:

on January 6, 2014 at 12:53 pm

I think it’s great that even though we are in two different stages of our photography careers we are having all of the same sort of feelings & are going through the same kinds of situations. All for the love of the shoot!
There is one situation that you have been in that I have not, yet! How do I go about getting paid through a business online?
Did I mention that I’m new to the Photography Business? I’m not new to photography just the money side.
Happy Birthday!
Happy New Year!
Thank you so much,
Ginny Hirst

Denny Medley says:

on January 6, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Amen.

And I have to agree on ALL points – it’s why we continue to do what we do (and love) every year. And going into my 11th year fulltime in this business, I also feel giddy and lucky to be able to continue to do what I love. And get paid for it.

Michael Clark says:

on January 6, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Yet again, well said Joe! Truer words about this profession are rarely shared. Thanks for being open, honest and forthright. Happy New year to you and the staff there and I hope 2014 is your best year yet!

Patrick Langley says:

on January 6, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Joe, you should be grateful for small mercies, I appreciate it is a pretty small mercy. It was very nice to read your article, your thoughts on your mind, no wonder you have such great imagination if you can complete writing like that, being dyslexic I find it extremely difficult however it also makes me very creative. I have not yet taken the plunge and started my own business although the thoughts go through my mind each day I currently work for someone else, yes ,oh yes, in an office. But do I long to do the job that you do, even though I know that there is a lot of heartache, I still haven’t managed to get over the fact that I need to pay the mortgage. Maybe one day at least when I retire I will be able to spend all my time taking photographs for me.

Great article Jo your big inspiration keep going love your work.

Owen Billcliffe says:

on January 6, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Joe, what an incredibly inspirational post that was for me to read. I just tickled my toe in the waters of Professional Freelance Photography last year after years building up to it, and man it was scary – but there’s nothing else I want to do! It’s been in equal parts exhilarating and terrifying, and to know that someone so established can feel exactly the same things is such a relief. I should reach out to The Community more, support is good :)

Sounds like a great team you have around you!

tom kirkendall says:

on January 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Keep your head low, camera high and run fast. Be thankful it is not a leap year.

Patrick Downs says:

on January 6, 2014 at 2:19 pm

re “I have this imagination, I guess you’d call it, about my pictures now, given Getty’s dominating presence in the field, and that family name’s history in the oil business. I conjure that my snaps now run in pipelines around the world, just like crude, but a lot less valuable, and get sloshed onto ocean going freighters, flying the Libyan flag, crewed by a vivid collection of multi-national sailors, insured out of the Netherlands and financed through the Bank of the Caymans. They get transported here and there, and get sold at colorfully vibrant outdoor markets in port cities, say, on the west coast of Africa, pictures by the pound, auctioned off somewhere in between the livestock sales and bull semen futures. The sale gets rung up and then chopped, sliced, diverted, rounded off and otherwise divvied up among unknown but certainly necessary parties, and what makes its way back to my studio through routes apparently as circuitous as the Silk Road, is a remuneration, a sum, a check….for $1.32.

LOL … Epic! You can have that 2nd career as a writer. Thanks for the chuckle, though it’s a morbid one.

Rob Byron says:

on January 6, 2014 at 2:31 pm

We should collaborate. Together, I bet we could increase that check by a quarter.

Victor Elias says:

on January 6, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Dear Joe,

Do not despair! Just keep a positive attitude….

You just need to wait for another 4,545 checks like that on the mail and you will be able to buy a new D4!

At what point did we photographers allowed the big corporations to take over our lives. Is it possible we just missed the ¨whole picture¨?

A field worker, a dishwasher or a valet parking attendant makes more per hour than we do if you consider the time you took planning the shot, editing, captioning, keywording, etc, etc. before submitting your work in to the pipeline!

The Internet was supposed to help us out by making us look just as big and accessible as the next stock agency, yet we became lazy and thought this guys were really looking out for us!

But I am sure ¨they¨ are aware of this and already considering getting the old contracts back (60-40), being 60 for us of course…

I had the pleasure of meeting you 2 years ago in a Kelby training seminar and it pisses me to see that they have the balls to even sign a check like that to an artist of your caliber.

I just hope we wake up and start a revolution against our oppressors, it happened before in history, so who knows it may happen again!

Happy 2014, Happy Birthday and keep shooting

Curt Leimbach says:

on January 6, 2014 at 4:09 pm

“…. I feel like a weary, overweight Wallenda, stepping out on the wire once more, balance pole firmly in hand, studio staff perched precariously like railbirds on either side of the pole, looking at me nervously. I tell them it’ll be okay, fun, even. I don’t think they completely believe me.”

I can’t stop laughing at this! What a visual. Please say you will shoot this someday.

Happy New Year, Joe.

Brook Thompson says:

on January 6, 2014 at 4:11 pm

I have just reached the frame of mind where I would just do my photography for my own pleasure. However if I could get a cheque like that rolling in!!!! Might have to rethink this professional stuff!

Will McGuire says:

on January 6, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Just got Hot Shoe Diaries in the mail from Amazon. I was hoping one of those flying robots would bring it sooner but I had to hold out three days! I love your writing style, thanks for sharing your passion with us. I hope you made more than a dollar and change on the book :-)

Ryan Scott says:

on January 6, 2014 at 6:48 pm

This is a really great piece Joe. I’ve read a lot of what you’ve had to say over the years that I’ve tried to implant in my brain in difficult times, and some lines here will find a place amongst them. Cheers and good luck this year.

Shane Baker says:

on January 6, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Thanks Joe.

Your para beginning “I understand fully at this point the Sisyphean task at hand …” had particular resonance for me – even if I had to look up “Sisyphean”. :-)

And yes, I imagine you’ll find a couple of good shots in 2014.

Thanks for your advice – and keeping me grounded.

Shane – in Canberra

James Braund says:

on January 6, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Beats my effort “Man working on laptop from above”. I was rewarded with 0.99 cents !

Dang, should have tried another angle

All the best for 2014 Joe

Grant says:

on January 6, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Great comments and likewise looking forward to that best of photo!!
Best wishes to you and your team for 2014
Cheers
Grant – in Sydney
Ps – when are next in Sydney

Johnny says:

on January 7, 2014 at 12:13 am

Sorry, the first thing that popped into my head was “Man getting hit by football” (Simpsons fans will get it)

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