Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Evening with Zack Arias & Joe McNally

A couple times a year, Zack will open up his studio to the photographic community. Most times, it's just the local community mixing with a several workshop attendees from out of town. Recently he's had Syl Arena and tonight he had Joe McNally in studio. If you don't know who Joe McNally is, you should, look him up.
Joe was in town Monday doing a Kelby Media lighting workshop and Zack asked him if he would extend his stay and spend some time at the studio for a gathering with local photographers. Joe accepted the invitation and those of us that attended were rewarded with some great stories and advice.

I didn't bring my camera. The few images I shot were taken with my iPhone. I arrived a few minutes after 7 and there were already quite a few folks already there. I was able to catch up with Zack and I was able to get a critique of my portfolio.  Needless to say, getting that kind of feedback from Zack means a lot to me and gives me more confidence moving forward. I'll save the details for a later post once I've gone through the changes I need to make.

Zack introduced Joe with a story of how they first met. Zack had received a phone call from a producer looking to hire an assistant. At the time Zack was trying to start up his business and didn't feel the need to be an assistant. However when she mentioned that the photographer was Joe McNally, Zack quickly jumped at the opportunity. I know I would. At that time Brad Moore was Joe's first assistant and later moved on to work for Scott Kelby. It was Brad who contacted Zack about a guest blog post that introduced Zack to a much larger audience. But it was photographer Marc Adams, a friend of Zack's that had recommended him as an assistant. Marc had worked with Joe on a story for National Geographic, not to mention was the photographer for Joe's wedding. It's a small world. Having contacts helps and having great relationships with colleagues in the photographic community can present opportunities when you least expect them.

After the introduction, Joe began to tell his story working his way up through the years. He said for a while he was just another paparazzi following celebrities outside of Studio 54 and only earning $50 for a shot if it got printed. The story that really got to me was the recounting of the Faces of Ground Zero Polaroid project. Right after the attacks on September 11th, everything came to a stop. There were no jobs for him, he was over $300,000 in debt, sleeping in his studio with no running water. Under that kind of pressure he still wanted to do something special. He proposed shooting  NY first responders working at the World Trade Center. He pitched the idea to LIFE magazine and got $100,000 for the project. For 2 weeks straight he lived at the studio that housed a giant Polaroid camera and photographed 200 people as they finished their shift at Ground Zero. Joe developed a relationship with that fire house and returns every year to pay respect to the fallen heroes. Almost 10 years later, Joe still gets emotional recounting the details of those 2 weeks.

I've looked up to Joe for many years and have admired his photographs. He's shot for Time, Life & National Geographic Magazine. Who wouldn't love to have been a photographer at any of those publications. From the outside, it looks as if Joe has been lucky or maybe there's some secret magical path to achieve a career like his. After hearing him talk and the kind of things he went through and is still going through, it's not easy. It's never been easy. He has had the same issues and insecurities we've all had as photographers and he's still insecure at times, but he's got the experience to pull of assignments. He still faces the same challenges every freelance photographer faces. Where's the next job. The word that kept coming up was "Tenacity". You've got to be tenacious to make it in this business. You've got to work your butt off. He mentioned the importance of being critiqued and having a thick skin. He suggested that photographers that are looking at getting into journalism to contact a photo editor and ask them to critique their portfolio. It'll be a learning experience and it'll make you a better photographer.

It was an inspiring and eye opening experience to hear from a well known and respected photographer. He even addressed the question about getting free gear from Nikon since his wife works for them. He responded by saying he buys all his gear from Adorama and actually gets a better deal and has less paperwork to file. He is given flashes from Nikon, but they are loaned and he's expected to return everyone of them at the end of the year. However, some of the flashes are in such poor shape after a year of traveling for assignments and workshop that Nikon may not take them all back. Attending these mixers at Zack's studio is similar to "Inside the Actor's Studio". You get an insight to these photographers' lives and it's not a glamourous life or easy path. I'm humbled by the generosity and how open, honest and candid Zack is and to have Joe do the same is incredible.

If you're a photographer or a fan, follow Zack on Twitter or Facebook and attend any of his future mixers. I always learn something new and always feel inspired. As I discussed with a couple other local photographers, it's kind of a kick in the pants to do something. It was also good to catch up with other photographers and talk about the business and share ideas. I don't know what the photographic community is like in other parts of the country, but Atlanta has a great community of photographers. Hope to meet many of you at a future event.

If you're looking for a portrait photographer in the Atlanta area, visit my portfolio.

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