Good People, Cool Things
Good People, Cool Things

Episode 100 · 9 months ago

100: Photography, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Happy Accidents with Joe McNally

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Welcome to episode #100! What a big freaking deal and a nice round number! I love it and I love you for supporting me the whole way. And now onto the episode! 

Joe McNally has been writing his new book for the last two years, but he’s been living it for the past 40 as an internationally acclaimed photographer with award-winning work in prestigious publications like National Geographic, Time, LIFE, and Sports Illustrated

In The Real Deal: Field Notes from the Life of a Working Photographer, Joe shares lessons and insights he’s learned throughout his career, starting as a copyboy and working his way to the renowned photographer he is today. 

We’re chatting about some of his top assignments, occasional mistakes, and why Michelle Pfeiffer knew he was the perfect photographer for a profile. 

Visit Joe at his website joemcnally.com

Follow Joe on Instagram @joemcnallyphoto

If you’re a fan of Good People, Cool Things, I would love your support. Feel free to follow on Spotify orApple Podcasts, and leave a rating or review on Apple Podcasts. That helps even more people discover these wonderful guests. 

You can also support the show by checking out the Good People, Cool Things merch store. Thanks for visiting! 

And I wrote a book! Grab your copy of Kind, But Kind of Weird: Short Stories on Life’s Relationships from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.

Good people cool things as a podcast feature and conversations with entrepreneurs, writers, musicians and other creatives. Get inspired by their stories to do your own cool thing, and here's your host, Joey held. Welcome to good people, cool things. Today's guest is Joe McNally, who has been a freelance photographer for more than forty years. His first job was back in one thousand nine hundred and seventy six as a copyboy, so we're talking all about what that entails. It's a job that's probably not super common nowadays, but pretty fantastic to hear how he's grown from that into someone who has photographed all kinds of fantastic things and celebrities, from the Sydney Olympics to Michelle Fifer. He has a fantastic story about Michelle fifer. We're also talking about why confidence is so important, how to get more access to things, because that'll help you accomplish more in life. Confidence, baby, confidence, it will get the job done. We're also talking about some moments that didn't go as well as Joe hoped, but it all comes back to the importance of preparation and making a decision that you think is right in the moment, even if it doesn't turn out like that, because sometimes you'll get happy accidents coming out of things. And we wrap up with some dessert talk. And oh I hope you have eaten before listening this episode, because otherwise you're going to be druling just a little bit by the end of the episode. If you'd like to get in touch with good people, cool thing, reach out via facebook, twitter or instagram at Gpct podcast and, as always, I'd appreciate a five Star Review. Head on over to apple podcasts or pod chaser drop the sweet, sweet five stars, just as sweet as it desserts were talking about. That helps more people discover the show learn about these great casts spread in the word is so very appreciated. You can also just tell someone you know, hey, there's a cool podcast. It's called good people, cool things. Check it out and then they can listen to conversations like this one with Joe. For...

...people who aren't familiar with you and your work, and you tell us your name, your elevator pitch and the type of elevator that we're riding on. That's interesting. You should mention that because I mentioned elevators in the book, but my name's Joe McNally, I've been a mostly freelance photographer. I was a staff photographer life magazine for a period of time during my career, but mostly freelance general assignment magazine photographer, and it's been a long haul with the camera, but also a wonderful one. So I'm very lucky. Consider myself to be very lucky I'm still doing this and I still love we're going to hot all the way back to your first job, back in one thousand nine hundred and seventy six as a copyboy, which I love this description, that use of the wretched dog of the newsroom. Now I am I imagine most people listening probably don't have any kind of experience with this. So what did you have to do as a copyboy? Well, I joined the Daily News. It was a hot type tabloid newspaper at really the height of its powers and many ways million, million and a half copies, you know. You know per day hot type means. You know, it's a process where you melt lead and cast it into type on big line of type machines and normous machines that were in the press room and then ink those those blocks of type and then you roll the paper on them and it comes to life. So not really similar situation now, let's put it that way. So the physical transport of stories was very, very important. You know, you'd have to actually take paper story and move it from place to pace. So that was really the origin of the term copyboy. So yeah, and then in the in between you did all sorts of stuff. You would you would run errands, you would get coffee, you know, donuts, whatever. You'd go...

...and run for run film, you take a radio car and go pick something up for a top editor, whatever. You were at all purpose errand kid really in lots of ways. So and you move from that to freelancing, which you've been doing, like you said, for the better part of forty years. was there a single moment where you you were like I need to make this, this leap, or what was kind of the plan as you you went into freelance? Well, it's the thing. You know, it may sound relatively idiotic. Who someone to someone who might try to make plan a career, but there was no plan. I mean I had plan a, that was to be photographer in New York City. There was no plan B and there was no real road map to how I would get there. You know, I thought that joining as a copyboy at the Daily News, I would get promoted into the studio, which I did, which was part of the photo operation. But then the paper hits some economic troubles and, you know, purged, you know some employees that I was last hired, first fired, etc. And so I hit the streets and started stringing, what they called stringing back in the day. You you would freelance for wire services, newspapers, small jobs, big job sometimes, but you know, daytoday work. You know, I could do a job for the New York comes in the morning, a job for the Associated Press in the afternoon, and then at night I'd go to studio fifty four and see if I could, you know, grab a couple of celebrity pictures and run them over to the UPI not much money was changing hands, but if you did enough of them, you could actually carve out a living, and you chronicle a lot of that work in your new book, the real deal, field notes from the life of a working photographer, and I think a couple questions I have...

...from this one. Can you talk about the importance of having field notes, because I think that can sometimes be especially for people starting out. It's kind of something they might overlook of like, you know, not capturing everything that's going on, whether they're they're doing photography or something, some other sort of creative endeavor. And did you know you always wanted to put these notes into a book or how did that become something that you put out into the world? Well, you know, I the idea of field notes was really something my editor and I hit on as a piece of the title, because a lot of order was writing sounded like notes from the field, you know, like you know, thoughts or small vignettes, sometimes more in large stories. And there isn't the need nowadays to keep a track of what you're doing in the field. The camera does so much of that for you, the a METADATA, etc. But field notes were very important processing notes. You could go on a job, a big job, and I could easily shoot seventy and eighty a hundred rolls of either a thirty five millimeter or two and a quarter film and I have to make processing notes on all of that. You know, push or pull, bring it to the lab, batch a, if we moved a light, we would have a film log and say, okay, rolls a one through a twelve was this lighting scenario. Then we moved to light and made adjustments. So from that point forward, a thirteen through a thirty two, those roles were shot after the light adjustment. So you'd have to physically transcribe what you were doing in the field often times. Did you ever mix things up and it led to disaster? Or were you? Were you very well organized. I've never made a mistake. Joy Ever, ever, it's always been a lock. Of course, there you know, some legendary mistakes have occurred over the course of time with, you know,...

...things getting lost, you know, film that was misprocessed. Thankfully I don't own any of those particularly legendary ones. But Yeah, sure, I've made tons of mistakes and had to double back. I've had to reshoot things, you know, I've lost equipment, you know. You know, or I've been had to improvise where I went to one city my gear went to another on another airplane that was not supposed to mean. The most legendary story is the Robert Cappo when he landed with the troops on D Day, Christ his life and if you know that very famous picture of the Gi and the surf at normality. It's all reticulated and granular. That was because they blew the processing. They dropped it into hot a bath of developer, or either developer or wash, and when you do that to film back in the day, the grain would just sort of explode. I would not want to be the lab PIC MISSION WHO SCREWED UP RUBBERT CAPS kill. Now I'm just pictured myself of that situation. I think I'd just melt into the core of the Earth if that, if that ever happened. And maybe this is a nice segue because I always like asking really anyone in any kind of creative field this. But you mentioned some of the sort of mistakes or, you know, less than stellar things that you've had. Is there are a particularly memorable worst experience, GIG session, whatever you want to call it. They all have their certain measure of paining, you know. You know scars in of it that leave themselves on you. I mean, yeah, I do write. You know about a couple of jobs where I was just classically, you know, dumb about it. I blew, you know, you just some of it. Sometimes is lack of experience, other times it's lack of judgment.

You you pick wrong. You know, I had I covered the Sydney Olympics for time and I did a terrible job. I just was off my game, you know, and I chose to go to the top of the stadium for the opening ceremonies and I shot a six seventeen panoramic camera and my editors just scrawled all over the film. Too Far Away, you know, things like that. I made a I made a bad judgment call. It was not a good message to get. As you know, when it's on Grease Pencil actually on your film, you know that's a pretty emphatic way of indicating displeasure if you're an editor. So yeah, you know it. But the thing is photographers were very prone to make mistakes, but we're available to make mistakes because we have to pursue very quickly, we have to trust our instincts, we have to go into the field with almost a childish sense of enthusiasm for what's about to happen and you get really wired up about stuff and mistakes will happen and also, at the same time, some wonderful things will happen, you know. You know there's there's you know, happy accidents and bad accidents and they occur and yeah, that was that was something else that I wanted to touch on as well. I think I have super minimal experience with photography, but I happened to capture a corky that was barking a lot at a much bigger dog at a dog park one time and then the dog just gave one deep bark and the corgy like recoiled in horror and I happen to get that reaction shot and it's like it's a little blurry because again, I'm not a good photographer, but I it's still one of my favorite things and I just happened to like be looking at what was going on and was ready, and that's I think that's a great example kind of a happy accident. And you, with far more experience out and there, do you have a couple of favorite happy accidents or situations where you were kind of surprised by what...

...was unfolding in front of you and you're like all right, let's capture this. Yeah, I mean sometimes you you place a bet and you know and then all of a sudden you realize afterwards, well, that worked out. You know, you know with you try to study things. I did politics and in early in my career, and you would study candidates and try to figure out if they had a tendency to go right or left, if they how they would work a crowd. Are they right hand it? Where would they be open to a camera angle, etcetera? Possibly, and then you place your bet and you jump right in and and wow, sometimes it just turns right into you and the that luck of the draw is is luck, but it's also it. You get luckier as you get more experienced. You know, the really experienced sorts, photographers, for instance, will know what a certain team is going to do on third and seventeen at a football game. They just into it that because they've been around the block. So yeah, that that kind of thing can happen. We're all of a sudden you'll just say, Whoa, that that really did work out. Or the other thing can happen, you know. I mean I was covering the why and iron man triathlon and I had all the Rangers, so shooting for National Geographic and and had a Zodiac. I gained permission to dive, so I was underwater for the start of the iron man. Two thousand five hundred runners, swimmers, etc. Hit the water. Think okay, this is going to be fantastic. I see a few swimmers, I see a few more and I don't really see too many. I'm like, what happened? I had drifted on my dive and I was terrified. I surfaced and, you know, I recooked it by zooming ahead of them in the Zodiac, but I was absolutely terrified about the idea of going back to the National Geographic and trying...

...to explain to my editor that I had missed two, five hundred relatively slow moving people. You know, I mean, how can you do that? You know? So, yeah, you know, sometimes it this, there's an old movie line. You know. Sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn't. Well, it sounds like it's working more often than not, and I think that's the most important thing. Yeah, you keep after it, you know, and you achieve a certain again, a certain steadiness about you, you know, a confidence. This business is an awful lot about confidence. If you can walk in to a situation and assess in rapid fashion and act with confidence, man, that's huge. You know, if you if you are tentative, your pictures will probably be tentative and also to you're oftentimes sent to people who have enormous Egos and very little time and so you have to match their bravado, if you will, with your own. You know, solid sense of confidence in terms of what you can do and what you can pull off. And over the years, have you learned any kinds of and if it's like preparation or tips kind of along the way to kind of have that confidence? Because I agree, I think something that you mentioned in kind of the the book description is the importance of access, which I think is such a key thing to point out there, and that a lot of great moments can happen because of access. Again, it's not restricted to photography, like I've had great experiences in life kind of just by being like I'm going to go into this place or like ask someone can I go into this thing that maybe is is off limits to the general public, but you just have to ask for it. So what have you learned along the way in terms of access and evidence? Yeah, a bunch of stuff, and it sounds naively obvious, but you know, tarfers, we get thrown into situations, we oftentimes just jump in, we parachute in. Preparation is is huge.

I I in every instance, I would say, when I'm dealing with somebody who is at a certain level that will actually anybody you know. Really you prepare, but the more famous someone is, the more material is out there to devour about them. So I really do a lot of reading. You know, if I'm photograph and somebody in the movies, I watch all their movies and I you know, tell that came around. I photographed Michelle Peiffer for life and we had lunch in La and she was very concerned about our lighting. We had never worked together before and I had sketches and things and I had studied all our movies and she told me, suse I, you know, I need to be lit soft and need to be lit a certain way and I totally respected that. But she looked at me and she said which movie do you think I was lit the best it, and I immediately just came back and said dangerous liaison's and she was like yes, and she nodded and she said there was a assistant art director who's an older man, who was absolutely just in love with her and he would literally trop alongside of her like an at tracking shot, holding a fillboard just out of camera range to dish a little light into her face so she would look her best. And she said I adored this man, I absolutely adored this man, and so that was like I didn't fumble around. I was like, oh well, I really liked scarface. You know, I know, I knew immediately it was dangerously as on. She was luminously beautiful and I patterned some of my light for that job on some of the catch lights. I could freeze frame the film and see some of the catchlights in her eyes and judge the size and scope of the light sources and the direction of them from, you know, stills that she had been in or free s frame of films. Incredible, I think. I you just taught me something I need to...

...look for the next time I watch a movie, because that, yeah, that's fascinating that you can. You can see all that. We you can you can tell, you know, the direction of light at back again, back in the day, you know, before there was a tremendous matter. retouching, digital retouching. Now you know it does a lot of things to people's eyes. But the I would get on planes and I wouldn't have you know, time and news week and sports illustrate it. I'd have vogue and you know, Harper's bizarre COSMO, you know, because the fashion photographer, I was really trying to learn how to light, and the the folks are really good fashion photographs from really know how to light, and so I looked at their work and I could look in the pupils of the eyes and see umbrella, softbox, position, all that sort of stuff, and then start to I call it the ROLODEX. To survive, you start to build up this collection of notes, postcards, whatever in your head that you can refer to and it helps you. Definitely helps. Taking a quick break here to share a show that I think you'll really enjoy. Did you know the big bird was originally scheduled to fly on the tragic challenge or space shuttle mission? Or how about this one? The guy who invented pringles was buried inside of a pringles can. Well, seems like a tight squeeze to me, but you do you. Here's a weird one. The CIA once invented a dart gun that would give people a heart attack without anyone knowing they'd been shot. All of these topics are from episodes of the Internet says, it's true, a podcast by comedian and magician Michael Kent. Every week a listener gives him an idea of a crazy, bizarre story from history that sounds fake but is one hundred percent absolutely true. Every episode ends with Michael Giving a pop quiz on the topic to one of his show business friends. It's like taking a history class, but we're all the topics are weird and fun and you won't get lectured if you don't know something. Maybe that was just my experience with history. Listen and subscribe at the Internet says it's truecom or wherever you're listening...

...to this podcast and you've traveled to seventy country, more than seventy countries, for your work has taken you can roughly around. Yeah, in the Ballpark, Yep, okay, still it's still far more, I would say, than the average person. So I've got I've got a two part question for you and they're not really related at all, but they're both vaguely around travel. Number One, is there any place that you want to travel to that you haven't been yet? And number two, do you have outside of your gear? Obviously, do you have a go to travel item that you always have to bring with you? Yes, I do. I have never worked in the South Seas you know or I've been to Australia a number of times, but I've never been to New Zealand. I never been to Tahiti, you know, and that Polynesian you know, beauty that is out there and those amazing islands. Have I've always wanted to do that. Never, never was able to grab an assignment in that direction. I mean assignments to the Eaty don't don't come along to off and I think so. And Yeah, I mean you're looking at him. You know, I long long airplane rides ear phones, you know, comfortable earphones to kind of shut out the doise of the plane and enables the rest things like that, you know, the a you know. So that music is always important to me when I'm on location. You know, in the days of Walkmen, you know I or disc men, you know, I used to have used to bring my CDs and if I was in some sort of dodgy place sleeping in, you know, some hotel I wasn't sure of, or out somewhere we weren't sure what kind of bugs would crawl on you, I just put some headphones on, put on some music and I try to go to sleep and just let let...

...the music sort of transport me away from the worries of what might happen, you know. So, yes, so that kind of auditory, you know, peace or calms is important to me. Do you this might be more of a modern day question, but with you know, the ease of putting playlist together on a platform like spotify, do you have specific sort of moods or you know types of music that you'll play based on the type of work that you're doing, or do you kind of have a consistent out in the field trying to sleep playlist? Well, I don't. I punt around a little bit. Absolutely. Yeah, I like kind of like my assigning career has been all over the lot. By musical taste are all over the lot. Really. I've been listening to a lot of SEAN row lately. He's got a he's got a playlist up on guess it's Pandora, and he's just really got, you know, his collection of what he likes. He's got this gruff kind of voice and and he's a good poet, you know, with his music. So and the other music that he gravitates to, I just find I enjoy and I can think too. I I drive my wife a little crazy because she's not so happy with my Celtic music. You know, I I wrote the book, I would put on I would get up very early in the morning and come down to the workroom and I would oftentimes play, you know, a little Irish music or something in the background, Celtic women, you know, clad at, you know, as is a, you know, a favorite group and and who else? A couple other folks. He when you start sorting it out, your head like, okay, what's that? What's that band's naming and you know. But yeah, I found that I could, I could write just with a little bit of...

...soothing music in the background. Yeah, it's always it's always interesting to hear how it, because some people are like I can't work with music, like I can't type something while there's music with words or in some cases even just a music at all. So I, as someone that likes having music while working, I always appreciate hearing. Yeah, I'm looking it up now just for a sec just to see. Oh, you know, another favorite is joan arm trading. Love her, but our first album probably in one thousand nine hundred and seventy and she's still making music. A push to is is got a beautiful voice. So yeah, you know, it's important. I think everybody's got their own way of clear in their head and you have to do that whether you're going to sit down at right or whether you're gonna go out there in the world and photograph. Clarity of thought is a really, really big issue when you go into the field with a camera in hand. What is what is the story? What do you after? That's an important question to answer and obvious one, but sometimes you can get so plum mixed by the stuff of an assignment that you can lose your train of thought. Moving into kind of kind of a related question, I think I always like to ask a question you wish you were asked more frequently and you say stop with the F stop questions and gear questions, but let's focus on the pictures themselves. And I think this is a fairly basic question, but it might have kind of a complex answer. Why are pictures important? What? Yeah, yeah, we could be talking about this tomorrow. I don't know about other folks, but my memory is fixed in still imagery, you know, and I think our sense of history and collective place in the timeline of the universe, the record of that is most powerfully written in still photography. I mean I can you know, you know little girl horribly burned running down a...

...road in Vietnam and you've you have that image in your head. Yeah, yeah, you don't need to see it. All you needed is is for it to be described and you you know, immediately, immediately, you know the situation. It brings you right back to that time and that period of history. So iconic, truly iconic. Still photography as the power of memory and it has the power of, you know, provoking emotion, provoking reaction, making people stop, making them think, making them angry, making them sad, you know, whatever it is, it's still foot still photo can, I feel illicit powerful response and demand at tension, no matter when it was taken, because the power of those truly iconic images don't fade, really, it just don't face. A hundred percent agree with that and you're almost off the hook here, but we're going to take take a little bit of a hard turn. Okay, sure, that's a hard turn, like it's something real, real, darker, but we're jumping in the top three and again that's something I like to source from you. You threw out desserts as an option, and so as a fellow sweets fan, I'd love to hear your top three desserts. Well, I can say in a general term, you know, or general description, anything that involves chocolate and raspberries. You know, that's that's awesome. My favorite ice cream is Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia, which is great with, you know, actually you could throw a few raspberries on that. It's awesome, awesome. Any measure of raspberry or...

Cherry cheesecake excellent, excellent, and it's not Italian cheesecake, New York cheesecake. It would be the thick, robust real cream cheese cake, you know, and the nothing that's a little bit lighter on the Ricotta side of things. I see, I don't. I don't do many desserts because I always do the math right, which is a sad thing, right, but I look at a dessert and I first question. I say, are the calories worth it? And the fancy or a dessert gets, you know, almond dusted, etcetera, etcetera, with, you know, Hollow Pino dressing and whatever it might be. I'm me at least you're clear of those. I'm very, very basic when it comes to desert chocolate, raspberries, cheesecake, ice cream, straight up, straightforward. Let's not mess around with success. I'd also steer Claire, of a Halloween your dressing on any just probably most regular males top. Yeah, you know, it's just like some chefs or restaurants get, I don't know, too fancy for the wrong good, you know. Yeah, great, just keep it simple, even simple class I reason. Yeah, give me a nice piece of cake and some ice cream and a little chocolate sauce. You've got a happy camper for sure. I got to stop recording these at dinner time, because now I'm just just gonna have dessert for dinner. Where are you located, Joey? I'm in Austin, Texas. Okay, cool, cool, I'll be down in Austin later on this year, in a couple of months. Nice. will go get some cake. That's yeah, we'll stay in touch and and we can, you know, do a calorie fest. Fantastic. Sounds Great. In the meantime, if people want to check out the book or learn more about you and see, I mean you have lots of great photos already on your website, where can they find you? Okay, sure, the website is Joe MC allycom straight up simple blog, has a has a good readership, good...

...following. That's Joe mcnallycom back blog over on instagram were Joe mccalli photo, nice and simple again, just like the desserts. Yeah, that's right, word. I like it. Yeah, I don't. I don't understand sometimes and I can well, I can understand and having fun with an instagram name or something and doing something outlandish like, you know, I can't even think of one now. But if you're going to use it, as we do, as a relationship to your business, and I think you have to keep it simple and on the fairly straightforward side. Yeah, something easy to spell. Always, always a good combat. Yep. Yeah, well, well, Joe, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. This was fantastic and highly encourage everyone listening to check out your website in the book because they're fantastic photos. Thank you very much. I appreciate you taking the time and then invite me on the program absolutely. I usually end with a Corny Joe. Have a great you know, one that sort of actually probably could have been me when I was a kid. I don't know if you're up for this or not, Joey, absolutely. Let's Sarah. You know, a telemarketer calls a house and a little boy answers in a whisper. Oh it was hi, young man. Is your mother in the house? Yes, well, can she come to the phone? Because, oh, she's busy. Okay, what about your father? Is He in the house? Yes, well, can he come to the phone now? He's busy too, to swell. There any other adults in the house? Well, the police are here. Those all, my goodness. Can any of them come to the phone? No, they're busy as how about anyone else? The Fire Department's here too, because, oh my goodness, can they come to the phony? Because they're busy too. Because, young man, why are all these adults in your house? A where are they? Also busy?...

They're looking for me. Really Fun, you know. Love it, love it. I feel like mine's going to be a letdown after this now, but still going to try it. What do you call a photo of a person taken by a dog? Dogumentary photography? Oh, I like that. Not It, though, alas, I think the right answer. It's a potrait, a very cool good after it. Today, people, very good, good people, cool things is produced in Austin, Texas. If you were a fan of this episode, go ahead and hit that follow button. That helps more people here the show. You can send me a message Joey at good people, cool thingscom. Thank you to all of the guests who have been on good people, cool things and check out all the old episodes via good people, cool thingscom. As always, thank you for listening and have a wonderful day.

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