Archive for the ‘Rambling’ Category
Hi, and welcome to all for 2013. I hope the whirlwind known as 2012 deposited everyone on the doorstep of this new year in good shape. Mildly frazzled perhaps, but whole of mind, body and spirit, ready to start turning the blank pages of these new twelve months, with all the unknowns and things hoped for. I remain blessed, I feel, in that I start another year with a camera in hand. Three days of shooting this week. Four next. So it goes. It will not always be thus, so I treasure the moments behind the lens with increasing fervor. I joke about the passing of time and frames with my buddy Bill down at the National Geographic. Another year for him living inside the land of the yellow border, indeed, a place where the wild things roam. Me, being a freelance content provider, I’m just the occasional interloper, trouble maker and, dare I say, problem solver. Though it’s completely open to fair questioning as to whether I’ve created more problems than I’ve solved. Best not to dwell on such matters. Read the rest of this entry »
Which remains one of my favorite places. Folks here have always been remarkably gracious and welcoming, and the city is beautiful. Tivoli is a toy-like dreamscape, a looking glass you can disappear into in the midst of the concrete trappings of the city, much in the way Central Park is at once a greensward and a safety valve in New York. When I lived in the city, during the lunatic, tumbling free fall that often constitutes a day of work there, I would find, suddenly, that I just had to go to the park. I often had the sense not so much of walking there. Rather, it was more like pulling a rip cord and getting abruptly snapped out of the tumble and thus into more of leisurely, wafting drift, so pleasant in and of itself you didn’t much care where you would alight.
Tivoli has the same feel for me. Plus, throw in the coffee, the pastry and the beer, and well, these folks got it going on.
One of the last times I was here was shooting for FedEx, and we scouted and shot in this kind of twofer arrangement that has come to be as Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmo, Sweden have forged closer ties. Separated only by a very cool looking bridge, there is a lot of back and forth between these two cities, in terms of people, commutation and culture.
I had, blessedly, a truly wonderful art director I was working for during these campaigns, and she literally pushed and prodded me to see differently. I’m a pretty lumpy traditionalist with a camera in hand, meaning I often observe certain rules of the road, like composing in thirds, focusing the camera, balancing and saturating the exposure for good color and the like. Kind of what you do when you grow up photographically as I did, shooting for mom and dad’s magazines, like LIFE, Nat Geo, and SI. I don’t get too many calls from Hip Hop Weekly. In fact, I don’t remember a single one.
But she encouraged me to break out a little bit, literally shoot from the hip, and handle the camera and the frame more casually than I had generally done. They wanted the look and feel of the pix to be more of a snap, a quick look at the brand, which was often not really overt in the picture.
It was fun, simply moving and shooting through the day, looking for light and trying to construct what would appear to be a chance encounter with those very familiar letters and colors on the packaging.
Of course, shooting in a city and culture that is very at ease with itself, and doesn’t ruffle or fuss about much, is wonderful, but does have its moments. We scouted a brand new subway hub in the city, looking for potential locations, and found some good angles we determined we’d come back to and shoot over the ensuing couple of days. The recently constructed metro stop we liked was perfect, with all sorts of silvery textures, a gleaming new emporium of commutation. Thing was, when we returned, one of the major areas we had in mind to shoot, was newly adorned with the below.
I remember looking up at this very sizable ad and doing a head tilt. I mean, this isn’t the kind of billboard you might see on good old Interstate 80 heading past Moline, fer chrissakes. As I’ve alluded to before on the blog, Europe is generally, wonderfully, much more blase’ and frank in their sensibilities about things of this nature than, say, a good deal of America. This particular ad roughly alludes to the fact that it was, at that moment, World Cup time, and the menfolk would be so ardently, utterly consumed by football that their female counterparts would be, at least temporarily, quite lonely, and thus left to, uh, their own devices.
Such are the vagaries of location work. We found another angle. More tk….
A couple months ago I had the cover of Newsweek. It was a stock shot of the Navy Seals, running the beach at Coronado, their West Coast training base. I’ve worked with the Seals a bunch, and many of those frames are in the stock library at Getty Images, who made the contact and the sale. It was cool to see the image used in this way, and it gave me a quick snapshot of the biz as it stands. Getty billed Newsweek about $1700 for the usage, which then was split with me. (I have no input or influence over what Getty chooses to charge for the use of an image.) I was, honestly, happy to hear that figure, given the dire and prevalent news of covers being sold for $50 bucks and the like.
While rates haven’t advanced, in this instance, neither have they retreated drastically. I’ve shot a bunch of assigned covers for Newsweek over the years, and it was always heady to corral that coveted piece of real estate. When I was shooting a lot for Newsweek, editorial rates were hovering around $350 per day, and if you could pull in a cover for a couple grand or more, shazam, you just copped the price of a couple more weeks of day rates. (The formula we all worked for at that time was day rate against space. In other words, if you worked 10 days and they ran nothing, you got those ten day rates, plus the expenses. If you worked one day, and the force was with you and you produced a cover and three double trucks, you got all that space payment, even though you worked only a few hours.) Those days were the stuff of the fevered imaginations of every mag shooter out there.
TIME of course paid more. They always had more budget than Newsweek. As my friend Jimmy Colton, then an editor at NW and now at SI, was fond of saying, “TIME is a hospital. Newsweek’s a MASH unit.” Below is the first cover I shot for TIME, and if I recall, they paid about 3 grand. Other shooters, the real premier cover guys, got more dough, for sure. I was definitely not in that group. If I got a cover, it was either an accident or a last ditch phone call by a desperate editor.
But TIME was the big boy on the block. As a shooter or an agent you could always expect more days, or bigger stock checks from TIME. The two mags were neighbors actually, with Newsweek being on the east side of St. Pat’s, facing Madison Ave., and TIME of course sitting astride 6th Ave. on the west end of Rock Center, just a couple blocks away off 50th St. Picture agents, attempting to sell their plastic sheeted, pre-digital wares, would often be at both mags on a Friday as they closed, trying to push their agency’s stories. They used to call this newsweekly Friday night tour the “50th St. shuffle.” There were certain agents who operated in totally blase fashion, selling packages of pictures labeled “Exclusif! Mondial!” (Worldwide exclusive!) simultaneously to as many editors as possible.
Selling pictures had a certain charm to it back then. You could liken it to loading up a buckboard with a bunch of pictorial clutter, harnessing Old Blue and clip clopping through the neighborhood, intoning “Rags, clothes, pictures, bottles, shiny objects….” Digital delivery is vastly preferable in terms of economy and speed, though the personal touch is a bit lacking. As a shooter, I could lumber up to Newsweek on closing night, hover at the light table, beer in hand (supplied by the picture editor, Jim Kenney) and look and listen in amazement as experienced chrome editors flew through stacks of slides, clapping a Schneider loupe to each successive transparency with the insistence and speed of a well handled set of castanets.
I shot a lot more for Newsweek, the poorer cousin of the newsweeklies, and got used to doing more with less. When I got sent to Poland for the first visit of Pope John Paul II to his native land, we had 7-8 shooters, and predictably, TIME had about 12. But, we had an ace up the sleeve, in that Kenney had wisely gathered in the services of Sygma, the Parisian based agency, to shoot for him. They were a wonderfully eccentric, experienced group of international news photogs, led by the incomparable JP Laffont. Shrewdly, they showed up in Warsaw in a Winnebago, driven in from France. In the initial days of the papal visit, while we were all in Warsaw, that meant that JP and company would routinely show up at your hotel door, and in gentlemanly fashion inquire, “May I please have a shower?” All of us fancy pants shooters with hotel rooms would make good-natured sport of our mobile home compatriots, down there in the parking lot with none of the amenities of the Warsaw Intercontinental.
Ah, but they were smarter than we were! When Il Papa got out there in the hinterlands of then severely Communist Poland, the press corps was relegated to cold water dorm flats and rickety, swayback cots set into ancient bed frames. Memories of the comparative luxury of the Intercontinental faded fast. The restaurants would routinely have a giant “X” through the entree list. They would often have only a bit of ham and some bread. And no booze! Everywhere the Pope went was dry. It was trying, I tell ya.
One night, having spent the day being harassed by the Polish militia, and fighting through thousands of people stacked against each other to hear the Pontiff say mass, I was stumbling back to my prison cell of a room. I believe I had just dined on water and stale bread, and was tragically without the anesthesia of several beers. My desperate nose went up in the air. The smell of truly wonderful French cooking was wafting about! Fragrant and beautiful, the scent led me right to–you guessed it–the Sygma Winnebago. I stood at the door of this four star restaurant on wheels, and I must have looked for all the world like a refugee child at the screen. So much so that JP had mercy, opened the door and handed me a glass (not plastic) of wine. “Drink, McNally. Enjoy. It’s good French Bordeaux!”
At that moment, and it wasn’t just because we were on a papal trip, it was like receiving communion.
Lessons learned along the way….more tk….
You know you’ve been in the picture making business for a while when certain milestones rise up and pass you by like a sign on the highway. Trust me, as you get older, those signs loom faster and whisk by quicker. Your pictures then, become a marker, an “I was there” notation, surely as the “Cracker Barrel, One Mile, Exit 14A” billboards on the interstate. That’s the inherent beauty of being a photog. You had to be there to make that picture. I have used this logic with pup reporters on stories at various times when they have lamented to me on the homeward bound airplane, “Well, you’re sure lucky, your job’s over, my work is just starting!”
“That might be true, but here’s something I bet you haven’t thought of, dingbat. I better have it in the can right now, ’cause I can’t make a picture over the phone.”
I’m sure digital technology will evolve to the point where we can make an interesting picture while on the phone. (Not with a phone, on a phone, of someplace or of someone we’re calling to.) I’m sure that day is in our future. I hope I’m dead.
The tenth anniversary of the death of Ken Kesey passed not too long ago, without too much fanfare. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of his book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The quintessential Merry Prankster, author, and provocateur, who, along with some mates, boarded a bus called Furthur and set off on a cross country, drug fueled jaunt. The group became the stuff of legend, largely due to the mythologizing capacities of Tom Wolfe, who penned a chronicle of the bus trip called The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. (Both of the above are required reading, by the way.)
I visited Kesey at his place in Oregon quite a number of years ago, courtesy of the London Observer, which was a terrific magazine to shoot for. (For them, I also shot Angie Bowie, the subject of Mick Jagger’s “Angie” and, as she put it, graduate of the real first class of rock and roll. Shooting Angie undraped will be the subject of another blog, sometime or other.)
But Kesey was not an easy mark. Smart and media savvy, he put up a bit of a tussle, which I’ve written about. That was okay. Most folks worth photographing often put up something of a fight, or at the very least, are not the most predictable of sorts. (You would not expect predictability from the mind that spawned Randle McMurphy.) I spent two days at his place, on and off, picking off a picture or two, as he made time. It was okay by me, as being around Kesey, even briefly, was like buying a ticket to the Tilt-a-Whirl at the county fair. You came out a little unsteady, and your compass no longer spun right to true north. Seeing as I’ve always enjoyed being off by a few degrees, it was an enjoyable visit. Plus, it was cool to shoot the bus.
It’s also, roughly, the 50th anniversary of when Tony Bennett first sang his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Tony is still belting them out, thankfully, and those little cable cars are still climbing to the stars. I’ve worked with Tony a number of times, and can report that there is no classier person in all of show biz. Decent, and gentlemanly come to mind, immediately. When I was with him in out at the city by the bay, he graciously agreed to go out to the worldwide symbol of SF, the Golden Gate Bridge. There, up on the headlands, I made a quiet picture of him sketching the bridge.
That night, onstage, he stopped his show, which normally was as scripted as a Swiss watch, looking down at his ordinarily immaculate shoes. He shook his head and chuckled a bit. “I was out at the Golden Gate Bridge earlier today with the photographer from LIFE magazine, you know, taking some pictures,” he told the audience. “And I just noticed, I’m up onstage here, and I got mud on my shoes!”
“I’ve never done this before onstage,” he continued. And, stopping everything, he reached down to both his shoes and did a little quick maintenance. Looking up and smiling, he went back on script. I was shooting him from the back of the house, and I had to return the smile in the darkness. Photography, once again, proved to be the break in the day, the unexpected turn in the road, and the mud on someone’s shoes.
Tony’s wonderful to spend time with, being easygoing, gregarious, and of course, supremely talented. Everyone knows about his legendary pipes, but what is sometimes overlooked is his skill as an artist. I made these pix in his NY apartment as he sketched his view.
I didn’t have the nerve to ask him for the sketch. It would have been inappropriate, even though he made it, quite quickly, so I could shoot him while he drew. It was beautiful, and done in a matter of minutes. Another great thing about being a shooter? You get, occasionally, to meet people who are supremely talented at what they do. It’s enriching, and humbling.
Tony being a kid from Queens, I shot him with another bridge, by the way.
And, news came this week that Italian soccer star Giorgio Chinaglia passed away. Flamboyant, outspoken and stylish, both on the field and off, Giorgio was in the vanguard of international soccer stars that propelled the early days of the North American Soccer League. He played for the NY based Cosmos, alongside the legendary Pele, and German star Franz Beckenbauer. This trio ensured that the Meadowlands, home of the NY Giants, rocked and rumbled to capacity crowds cheering a different sort of football.
I covered Soccer Bowl ’78, and it was a wild time. I ended up in the shower with Pele. Hmmmm….life as a shooter has always been weird, and wonderful.
I’ve been corresponding with a young photog, currently in the military, and about to take steps in civilian life. He’s been writing me articulate letters, filled with questions, trying his best to sort out the ongoing mystery of why we do something we continue to suck at most of the time. Not just do it, but love it. He’s had a couple tours in Iraq, and is currently stationed in Asia. A new life is looming, and he’s trying to make a sensible plan for a future in photography, which of course is a future that will defy logic and any measure of common sense. He’s passionate and talented, and wondering which way to go.
I said I’ve been corresponding. That’s quite generous. I’ve been a lousy letter writer. So many times I’ve wanted to respond, and events, an airplane or just plain sleep overtook me. I finally made a stab at a mildly complete answer to his archive of letters, and below is a piece of it. His persistent, thoughtful questions brought me back to a day when I might have made my first successful picture.
You made the choice to follow a photographic path sometime ago, and have followed that path with zeal and passion. That pursuit is something we share, to be sure. When I “found” photography, it drew me like nothing I had ever experienced. Up to that time, I was completely non-committal in all aspects of my life. Indifferent in school, a so-so athlete, just another beer drinking college kid, out there on Marshall St. Never thought about logging the 10,000 hours with anything and certainly hadn’t encountered one thing at that time that seemed to warrant that kind of effort.
But photography! Now this was something that involved the head, heart and hands in equal measure. This was balance. This needed no explanation or defense. It needed to be done. It required work. It became the focus of my life. And, a bit like a big rock blocking the way of the stream and roiling the waters, it has stayed there, in my consciousness, day and night, mocking me, taunting my relentlessly puny efforts. Day after day, year after year, I have gone after that rock, methodically, but sometimes with a vengeance, using the camera in my hands as one would wield a sledge, hoping to break it to bits, crack it open, find the gleaming secret within and thus finally obtain smooth portage.
You know what? After all my blood, sweat and tears, it still sits there, smiling at me. My encounters with it now are more conversational than rage filled and intense. We’ve come to an understanding, I think. I will pass from this earth and it will still be there, ready to taunt the next young pup with a camera in his hands and some big ideas. But there’s an unspoken agreement between the two of us that there were days I hit it hard enough to break off a couple of decent size pieces. I gave it a decent go, in other words. It’s all we can do.
Part of the pull of course is that photography involves an all out effort. You have to be at the top of the ladder for the best angle, not the middle. You don’t do it from the side of the road. You leave the car behind, climb the guardrail, and go out there to get in the middle of whatever you’re looking at. You walk into the village or the farm or the life of those in question. You get off the interstate, and, as Jay Maisel says, you walk—slowly. It’s a credential to life’s events you put around your neck that gets you past the barriers that hem in and corral the others. In return, it demands that you risk things—life, limb, emotions, embarrassment, failure, sometimes all at once. It seeks only the most ardent, passionate of suitors, and even then this fickle art and craft turns veiled eyes and offers the barest wisps of approval and acceptance, and those, only occasionally.
And I accepted that slim invitation, long ago, sometimes to my regret or comeuppance. I have failed, been broke down and wept for my own ineptitude. I have given up and given in. I have railed against the apparent injustice (to me) of others, be they editors, subjects, readers, friends or family that they seemingly don’t take this as seriously as I do. I have tired of explaining myself. I’m exhausted from imploring for just a bit more of an open door, just a bit more time. I mean, don’t they see? Don’t they know this is important? If you let me just do this, together we then create something that will outlast us, and isn’t that the fucking point?
Strangely enough, lots of folks out there have found my insistence and persistence odd, or even irritating. Put smiley face here.
You asked me once what photo started it all for me. For you it was your Auschwitz photo, the reflection on the floor. You also noted other high moments. The giraffe in Tanzania, and the soldier by the sunlit doorway. Those are all far more eloquent than anything I shot in my early years. My canvas was small as a photo student. Syracuse, NY, not the savannas of Africa. I turned, as a spectator at a football game, and saw an acquaintance about to go full throttle with a yell. I took my Nikkormat, loaded with Tri-x and a 135mm f2.8 lens and put it to my eye, and swung the focus to critical and hit the shutter at the absolute crescendo of whatever verbal abuse he was hurling at the opposition. It was the first time my camera felt like an extension of my hands. My fingers had flown (for once) to the right places, and moved the infernal dials and buttons in exquisite concert. It was one frame. I sat down and stared at the camera. And I don’t remember a single thing about the rest of that day.