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I began working with Joe a little over two years ago. As you can imagine, the knowledge I’ve gained in that time has been both invaluable and almost made my head explode. But to truly understand just how much I’ve learned from Joe, you have to know what my starting point was.
Assisting Joe was my first job right out of college. I took some photo classes in school (at Union University), and interned at the local daily paper (The Jackson Sun) during my senior year. I was competent enough to use a digital SLR (started out with B&W film in a Nikon FM2, then migrated to D70/D100 territory a year or so later), could throw a flash on the camera and dial it up and down, and knew how to use levels, color balance, and hue/saturation in Photoshop. That was about the extent of my “expertise.”
When I first showed up at Joe’s house/studio, his then-assistant Scott Holstein showed me the garage of gear. He started pulling out case after case of lights and stands and softboxes and you-name-it. I didn’t even know what a freakin’ c-stand was, so I was slightly overwhelmed. Scott assured me that, over time, I would get to know the gear inside and out and find “my way” of packing everything. I kind of scoffed at that statement, but was kind of re-assured by it at the same time.
Over the next couple of months, I was at the studio a lot while Joe was gone teaching at various workshops. I began learning the vast archive of images from Joe’s 30+ year career, both film and digital, and attempting to hone my Photoshop skills and just figure out how things in general worked around the studio.
A month or two into the job, I finally went on my first shoot with Joe. Talk about literally being thrown into the deep end…
We went down to Jersey and shot the U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers off the coast of Atlantic City. That’s me hanging off the side of the boat with an SB-800 on the end of a boom arm trying to shed a little light on the scene without falling overboard (wasn’t too worried about it, though, thanks to our subjects). Before this, I had never used an SB-800 beyond basic on-camera fill flash. Imagine trying to communicate with your boss, who is bouncing around in the water, while a helicopter hovers just above your head, spraying water everywhere, and not knowing what the heck you’re doing… That was me on this shoot. Luckily, we had Coast Guard photographer Tom Sperduto on our boat as well, and he helped with everything and made the shoot a success. At the end of the day, Tom told me that next time we saw each other, I would know the flashes inside and out. He was right. Next time we saw each other, we had a laugh about the job, how clueless I was at the time, and how far I had come in just a few short months.
Before working with Joe, I had flown a total of two times, roundtrip. Now, on Delta alone I have almost 90,000 miles under my belt, including unforgettable trips to Mexico, Istanbul, Berlin, Rome, Vancouver, Spain, and some of the most beautiful places in the United States. I’ve worked on shoots for National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest, Nikon, and FedEx. Heck, I’ve even played paparazzi and shot Bruce Willis, Justin Long, and Maggie Q at the Berlin premiere of Die Hard 4!
I met some of the top basketball players in the country, as well as some of the most well-known and respected photographers of our time (such as John Dominis, Jay Maisel, and many others). I’ve been on sets with snakes, toads, birds, toy rat-dogs, and even an elephant named Suzie (and that was just one one shoot, which also included a helicopter ride around Manhattan)!
Suffice it to say, I’ve had a great and eventful two years. But, I’ve decided that it’s now time for me to allow someone else the opportunity to work with and learn from Joe.
Drew Gurian will now be filling my shoes as Joe’s assistant. If you’ve visited the blog, you may have seen him in this header image.
That’s his band, Far From Westfall, and he’s the one in the middle. He plays the drums, which should be fun for Joe when Drew’s downstairs practicing at 2 a.m.! Anyway, Drew’s a good guy, and I have every confidence that he’ll do a great job working with Joe. At least he already knows what a c-stand is:-)
As you may’ve noticed in Joe’s post the other day, Drew was with us this week in Vermont at DLWS. Sadly, this was also my last DLWS event as a staffer.
It’s been a great two years with this crazy bunch of people, and I’ll miss them a whole bunch. I can’t recommend signing up for one of these workshops enough!
But, I have a feeling that this will not be the last you hear of me. Actually, you may start seeing a lot more of me. I’m heading down to Florida to work with Scott Kelby and the rest of the gang at NAPP! To be perfectly honest, I’m not 100% certain what Scott has planned for me, but I do know that he’s going to keep me busy.
Thanks to Joe and Lynn for everything they’ve taught me and allowed me to be a part of during my time with them. You guys will be missed…
So, that’s it from me. It’s been an amazing two years, and I’ll always look back on this time with fond memories. Now it’s time for me to load my car and head home to Tennessee for a little while before heading to sunny Tampa!
Hello again guys and gals… Brad here.
Just wanted to let all of you know that the Upcoming Events section on the sidebar has been updated through the end of the year. So if your McNally cravings just can’t seem to be satisfied, check and see if he’s going to be in your area, or anywhere you’d like to visit!
He’ll be in Las Vegas, Massachusetts, and Santa Fe in September; New York City (twice), Vermont, and Maine in October; Montana in November; and California in December. For events scheduled into next year, check out the Workshops calendar on joemcnally.com. Venice anyone? How about Hawaii or the Outer Banks with the whole DLWS crew?
Don’t wait too long… They sell out quickly!
Many thanks to all who replied to the last post. It means a lot, and I know Tom was overwhelmed by the reaction and that has re-upped his determination.
That’s one of the many things I have always treasured about being a shooter. You can get up in the morning with an idea in your head, take a camera, and go make it real. Pretty direct. Pretty cool.
Blog’s gonna be a bit intermittent for a while. Out of the country now, with sporadic access to the internet. After I come home, got a couple days, and then journey into the mysterious land surrounded by the yellow border. It’ll be pretty wacky.
Again, thanks to all. Blogging has reaffirmed my thinking, which is something I talk about in my classes. All of us, in this community, we are all photographers, sharing a common passion, and thus all in the same boat together, in a roiling sea. Lots of pressures on us. Time, budget, access, budget, speed of technology, restrictions, rights, budget, rates, cost of gear…did I mention budget? Man, it can be rough, navigating these waters, to continue the analogy. But, if we all continue to bail in collegial fashion, and help each other out, we’ll stay afloat. More tk…..
First off, I just want to thank everyone for the overwhelmingly great response to Joe’s post yesterday. It’s always great to see a community of people (no matter how far apart we are from one another) join together for a singular cause.
I also want to thank Adorama once again for their gracious support of both Joe and the Faces of Ground Zero project. Can’t say enough about how great you folks are!
I want to take a second and point out a new addition to the blog for those of you who may not have noticed it… The Equipment Page! As you’ll see, this is a complete listing of the equipment that Joe uses. Believe me, it’s as much stuff as it seems. Even more since we have multiples of a lot of those items. When we load up the Suburban to go to a shoot, it’s filled from top to bottom and front to back. Joe and I usually have enough room left for ourselves and a couple of coffees (or lattes, if it’s a highfalutin’ gig!)
For those of you who get the blog in an email or reader, you’ll always find a link to the equipment page at the end of the post, just above all of the “sharing” links. For those who visit the blog directly, you’ll find a link on the sidebar, along with the link at the end of each post. Depending on what Joe is talking about (and what kind of mood he’s in), he’ll put specific gear links directly in the post as well (i.e. “So I sparked the fnugy with a pepper, then had him re-adjust the c-stand with the Elinchrom Octa, which produced a beautiful quality of light.”)
To be honest, this is something we’ve had in mind for a while, but just now got around to doing. I would say that the number one question we get when Joe teaches is some variation of either, “What’s that?” or,”Who makes this?” Now we can tell them, then point them to this page in case they forget!
And, if I may take a second to make a shameless plug, I would like to point out that I too have a blog. I’m not as consistent as Joe, but I try to share nuggets of assistant-wisdom when I can. Be on the lookout for continued stories in my “Mistakes” series, including a multiple-part saga that occurred at the beginning of my stint with Joe. Part of it involves me in a Mexican ER at 1 a.m. the night before the Baja 1000 (my mom loved getting that text message in the middle of the night!)
Seriously, thanks again to everyone for all of your support. And, in keeping with Joe’s ending, more tk…
Now I know to some folks, “wonderful day” and “New York City” don’t belong in the same sentence. But I have always loved the city, lived there for 16 years (not anymore), and have fond memories of the energy, the lights, Central Park, first runs of movies, and yes, even the muck, the squalor and the noise.
After 9/11, I shot a project on the world’s only Giant Polaroid camera that was known as Faces of Ground Zero. (Maybe in a future blog, I’ll talk a bit about it, and this singular beast of a camera–interior chamber of the camera is the size of a one car garage, for starters, and in 90 seconds you peel the backing off a 4′x9′ life size image.)
One of the gifts doing the project gave me is the lasting emotional relationships I have with people who came before the camera. One of those is with Archbishop Demetrios, the spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in North America. He graciously agreed to see me yesterday to present him with a copy of The Moment It Clicks, which has a photo of him in it.
The photo in question came from the assignment I received from the church to make the Archbishop’s official portrait. What an honor of an assignment! I got a chance to make a picture that will last in the annals of the Greek church for all time, way past the time they pry my D17xs from my cold dead fingers. (That’s ambitious, eh?)
We sat and talked for about a half hour. He is one of the most decent people I have ever met. He radiates forgiveness, warmth and a love of humanity in all it’s shapes and forms. I took a deep breath when I got out of the building and onto 79th St. Proximity to such goodness lightens anyone’s mind and heart, even a prone-to-be-cynical 30 year career photog. The irony of feeling such a blast of clear air in my head and my heart was that the Greek Archdiocese offices are directly across the street from former Governor Spitzer’s residence. The news trucks were still there, and you could smell the smolder of something that had gone terribly wrong.
Then I headed west, across the park and delivered a book to my mentor and editor, John Loengard. John was a staff photographer at LIFE who become the magazine’s DOP for a long time. We sat and talked pictures for about an hour and a half, and it was just remarkable. He remains one of the truly smart and perceptive picture people walking around. His book, Pictures Under Discussion, is a must read for anyone involved in photography. I took a class from John called “Editorial Concepts in Photography” at the ICP in 1977. 30 years ago! I was a copyboy at the New York Daily News. He gave us an assignment on dolls. This was a great assignment, and one of those beginning points. I made this photo of my mother’s hands with an Alexander doll. I have photographed hands ever since.
For class, I also started photographing a gentleman named Ivan Bankoff who would pluck his ukulele outside of the tonier shops on 5th Avenue, and lived in my building. (Should give you an idea of what a high rent place that was.) He would occasionally pull in a fiver from a well heeled passerby, and pull it out of his hat and wink as he pocketed it. He would regale me with tales of his days in vaudeville, a showman to his core.
John flipped through Clicks like it was a flip book, and then paused and looked at me and said, “You know I’m a fast looker, right Joe?” I smiled and reminded him of the first time I brought a carousel of pictures to him at LIFE around 1980. They were splashy and full of color, but utterly devoid of content. He never took his finger off the advance button except to pause and say, “You know I’m a fast looker, right Joe?” He also noted very pointedly that my controlled work, the work with strobe, had more “energy” than the more reportage pics in the tray. A harbinger of a career to come.
Still the same John, and by that I mean as quick witted and sensitive to nuance and detail as ever. After his review, he looked over and said he thought the book was terrific. Then he went on to say that the Steve Martin picture was “tilted” a bit, in a way LIFE had not done, and he liked it better in the book. Also, he was smiling at me but his eyes narrowed in disapproval as he noted, “You cropped Bernstein.” And he held up the gold man on the roof, and asked if I had lost the original. True enough, the repro of that picture is not as good as it could be.
This all happened in just a couple of minutes. We went on to talk of the field, and what photographers do now to survive, and he said, “This book is not your best work.” I readily agreed. It was not meant to be that. Some of the pictures I chose were failures on certain levels, or addressed field problems or mistakes. He gave, as always, good advice. He counseled me to think about the book. The book. The one I leave behind. “It may take you 5 years to do, Joe. You should think about it now.”
We rambled, and bitched in genteel fashion, which is what happens when two photographers sit down for any length of time. His voice has always been clear and consistent, and I have heard it on location often, sometimes in the back, but very often the front of my head. It was good to hear it again.