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Thread: Joe McNally's “My journey, 30 years on”: An Aftermath

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    Default Joe McNally's “My journey, 30 years on”: An Aftermath

    Note
    • Please refer to Joe’s The Moment It Clicks for all page references. These pages are for further reading and to provide greater insight on themes Joe presented during his talk.
    • All images courtesy of Dream Merchant.


    The Spirit of Christmas Present warns Scrooge, “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree.” Though 167 years old, A Christmas Carol preaches lessons that remain ever so valid. Thus we seek mentors to guide, discipline and inspire us. The Singapore photography community comprising of members from the media, Nikon Professional Services (NPS) NikonClub and Clubsnap were blessed with such an experience on 10th January 2011. The event was “My journey, 30 years on” by Joe McNally.
    Group photo with Clubsnap members upon his arrival.


    Sponsored by Nikon Singapore, Joe was most candid, reminiscing about the peaks and valleys of his career spanning three decades. I have re-organized his talk into five key lessons, namely, that on tenacity, survival, creativity, learning and storytelling.
    Strobed by the audience
    Last edited by chngpe01; 14th January 2011 at 01:41 PM. Reason: Add in NPS

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    Default On Tenacity

    Tenacious (adjective) persistent, stubborn, or obstinate.
    When asked about burnout management, Joe replied “when things don’t go well, I get determined.”
    Joe is a relentless photographer, calling James Brown’s agent six days in a row to gain a portrait session (Page 6-7). Whether it was the 17 frames from the Godfather of Soul or a photograph of ballerina Paloma Herrera’s feet (Page 8-9), he exercised great patience and professionalism to ensure his stories feature both beauty and pain.

    Though scheduled for 7, the queue started forming at 6.


    Joe likened the photographer to Sisyphus, destined to an endless task of creation. Hence, “the best photograph will never be made.” Though Sisyphean equates pointlessness and connote the negative, he believes it is an inevitable condition in one’s quest for excellence.

    It is that commitment to excellence that yield the image of Michelle Yeoh dangling from wires off a helicopter over the Hollywood sign. (Page 24-5). Even world leaders do not intimidate him into accepting the mediocre. After a studio session with Mikhail Gorbachev, Joe stated his dissatisfaction and convinced Gorbachev to stand for a portrait in a snow-covered forest. He revealed that he learnt the most useful tools are “thick skin and sharp elbows” and he quickly developed them.

    The queue quickly stretched beyond the snack counter.
    Last edited by sebastiansong; 14th January 2011 at 02:42 AM.

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    Default On Survival

    “You don’t survive in National Geographic without being competitive.”

    When a young member of the audience confessed doubt over his future as a photographer due to many constraints, Joe smiled. He acknowledged that everyone start with no, if not limited, equipment, time, resource, and access. Moreover, limitations of one form or another will always be present. There is, however, one factor that can conquer all limitations. Passion.

    When Joe started working at the news desk, it was a desk bound job and he had no opportunity to shoot. He had to improvise by shoot through lunch-breaks and staying back after work to shoot with the night-shift photographers. Every waking moment presents an opportunity to hone his craft. Joe does not, however, mask the dark side of such devotion. By prioritizing photography, sacrifices must be made. One must be prepared to “kiss one’s social life goodbye” in order to devote oneself fully. He could not have illustrated this point better when he said, “you do what you do to shoot the photograph. There is no other way.”

    Group photo with members of Crossing Bridges 7
    Last edited by sebastiansong; 14th January 2011 at 03:01 AM.

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    Default On Creativity

    “The important thing is I shoot.”
    Joe encouraged the audience to experiment, all the time. (Page 174-5) He insisted that his time-tested method was to “shoot his way through” because somehow, somewhere, the photograph will materialize eventually.


    Sharing images from a self-funded project after he was "RIFFED" from Life magazine.


    Joe admits that he is “in love with the human face.” (Page 184-5) He then works out
    • how he would love the face; and
    • what he would do to showcase that love.


    Expressing gratitude for Nikon’s technological advancement, Joe admitted that without content, more megapixels will only result in more highly detailed garbage. “Good pictures are hard to find and make and the equation still apply,” he added. When asked how one can know what is good, Joe then spoke about learning.

    More than 200 CS members attended the event.
    Last edited by sebastiansong; 14th January 2011 at 02:55 AM.

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    Default On Learning

    “The only way to know is to study it.”
    A photographer is only as good as his knowledge. Thus he feels the importance to research and review photographs, especially classic ones that were relevant and valid in their days. The photographer should not be worried that he is alone in his pursuit as there are associations, clubs and classes readily available to offer knowledge and even equipment. Joe reminded the audience to take full advantage of these establishments to facilitate the learning process.

    “There is so much to learn.”
    Displaying an aerial photo of the New York City Marathon, Joe highlighted he had to learn to handhold a 600mm lens from a helicopter. His other option was to tell the editor that he did not know how to. Since that was not a valid option, he had to constantly pick up new skills during his field work.

    Joe urges the audience to find something photographic that they cannot stop shooting. For Joe, it was dance. Ironically it was his dance photography portraiture session with Jennifer Ringer that introduced him to the Giant Polariod. The lessons from the self-funded first encounter would prove invaluable during his Faces of Ground Zero project.

    Addressing the audience at GVMax Cinema 1
    Last edited by sebastiansong; 14th January 2011 at 03:02 AM.

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    Default On Storytelling

    “Thoroughness is part of the deal until the story is told.”
    Joe stressed that as photographers, we are storytellers moving viewers from point A to point B. The end result is knowledge gained. In other words thoroughness is doing it again and again and again until no stones is left unturned. For Joe, photographers are vessels of information for readers who cannot be present. (Page 212-3)

    Making sure Joe and Louis have their tickets


    As a storyteller, new angles are a must. Joe even went underwater when National Geographic assigned him to come up with an unusual picture of the Ironman Triathlon. (Page 208-9)

    “Telling a story is like peeling an onion.”
    Joe highlighted some of the key ingredients for a successful photo essay.

    • Show scale and drill down to the core.
    • Vary your angles, showing action.
    • Focus on light and shadows.
    • Explore the richness of colors.
    • Document the level of details.
    • Capture the characters, their charisma and emotions.

    Furthermore, the story may start indoors but it need not end there. Finally, there must be closure to signify the end of a day.

    Joe and Louis psyching up for the event
    Last edited by sebastiansong; 14th January 2011 at 03:07 AM.

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    Default Re: Joe McNally's “My journey, 30 years on”: An Aftermath

    Above all, I was most impressed by Joe's willingness to share, encourage and inspire. One small doubt, however, lingers. Does the word impossible still exist in his dictionary? Or would I find it being crossed out and scribbled above, three small words: difficult but possible.


    About Joe McNally
    Author of The Moment It Clicks, The Hot Shoe Diaries and the upcoming Sketching Light, Joe is listed as One of the 100 Most Important People in Photography by American Photo magazine. While his photographic awards and honors are too many to list, His special projects include:

    Faces of Ground Zero - Portraits of the Heroes of September 11th: McNally's collection of more than 270 Giant Polaroid life-sized portraits shot near Ground Zero in a three-week period shortly after 9/11. (Joe’s description of the project) The collection is considered by many museum and art professionals to be the most significant artistic endeavor to evolve to date from 9/11. 150 of these compelling portraits were published in 2002 and helped raise over $2 million for the 9/11 relief effort. (Washington Post article)

    The Future of Flying: McNally's 2003 cover shot and 32-page spread in National Geographic, chronicling the future of aviation was the first all digital shoot for the magazine. The photo collection commemorated the centennial observance of the Wright Brothers' flight and was the magazine's best-selling issue ever. (Joe’s Field Notes)
    Last edited by sebastiansong; 14th January 2011 at 10:11 AM.

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    Default Photos from the event

    Registration counter of Nikon Club Singapore


    Registration counter for Media and NPS


    Joe's female fans


    More fans
    Last edited by sebastiansong; 14th January 2011 at 03:21 AM.

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    Default Re: Joe McNally's “My journey, 30 years on”: An Aftermath

    Leica in the midst
    Last edited by sebastiansong; 14th January 2011 at 03:20 AM.

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