|Although he didn't pick up his first camera until he was in college
(studying to be a writer), Joe McNally knew almost instantly that
he had met his life's passion. "You just know certain things and
as soon as I picked up that camera, I knew I could do this," he
A big part of the attraction, he says, was the immediacy of photography
- and the fact that in order to take pictures, you had to be directly
involved with the world. "As journalism evolves into the next
millennium more and more writers and reporters don't actually
get into the field that much anymore," he explains. "Photographers
still have to physically go into the field. They have to deal
After leaving school, McNally headed for New York to seek his
fame -- or at least a job -- as a photojournalist. "In my early
days I had a very unrealistic set of ambitions," he recalls. "I
came to New York and I thought, 'Well, here I go.' But New York
is a great teacher that way. It humbles you very quickly and the
only job I was offered was that of a copy boy at the Daily News." The one benefit of the job, he says, was that he did get to
hang out with some great photographers. The job didn't last though
and he soon found himself freelancing.
"I left there and hit the streets and started stringing for the
wires and The New York Times and The Philadelphia Enquirer," he says. "It was a blessing in disguise. It pushed me out the
door and I stopped waiting around at the Daily News for them to make me a photographer. If you ask me if I had a
plan for my career, maybe I had some vague ideas or some fantasies,"
he recalls, "but my career has been more about rolling with the
punches and just trying to seek out an avenue to continue to do
good work, no matter where that avenue leads."
In 1979, that avenue led to a two-year job with ABC television
as a staff shooter for the network. While at ABC, however, McNally
was offered a freelance assignment by Discover magazine to photograph the lift-off and landing of the first
space shuttle. "It was three weeks of freelance work," he says.
"I walked back into my boss at ABC and said, 'I quit!', I knew
this [assignment] was a gateway to a freelance career." And it
was. Shortly after the Discover assignment, McNally got the break that helped map out the future
of his freelance career:
"As soon as I got my paycheck for doing the space shuttle, I turned
it into a plane ticket to Northern Ireland and I went there for
the Bobby Sands crisis and the hunger strikers," he recalls. While
there, ABC asked him to photograph Peter Jennings in London. Moments
after walking into Jennings office, the news came that the Pope
had been shot.
"He looked at me and said, 'If you want to go to Rome, you can
come to Rome with me,'" he says. McNally called Newsweek and told them he had a free flight to Rome and he ended up shooting
for them in Rome for three weeks. "At that point I was rolling,"
he says. "I had finally gotten turned loose to see what I could
do." Since he was "turned loose" Joe McNally has shot regularly
for Life, Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and Fortune. He won numerous journalism awards, including the 1998 Alfred
Eisenstaedt Award for outstanding magazine photography.