A Photographer and a Man… « Joe McNally Photography

Douglas Kirkland recently passed away. Her photographs are a celebration of beauty, and will live on. His death was widely noted, as he is a true legend of the industry. Below, a story in the DP Review. The banner image above is a group photo from the book, A Day in the Life of Hollywood, which is of course Douglas’ stable. Tough and kind photographer Henry Groskinsky was given the daunting task of photographing 75 other photographers, all of them antiquity and impatient.

In the late seventies, I was a copycat kid at the NY Daily News. There are many vague and unfounded expectations of becoming a “New Yawk photographer”.

Bob Clive was the art director at News’ Sunday Magazine and saw a glimmer, somewhere, in the middle of my mostly student portfolio, and gave me some assignments, which eventually, over time, resulted in my first cover. real magazine. The Daily News has over 50 regular photo staff, and the fact that a copy boy/apprentice did the cover of the legendary Sunday News Magazine doesn’t endear me to them. Except for those confident ones, who congratulated me and told me to keep pushing. Those with weak skills and low morale stare at me sideways. Threat.

I’m on vacation to the west coast. No money, cheap plane tickets, couch surfing while I was there. Clive gave me several numbers to call to show my work. One of them is Douglas Kirkland. I have studied his work in school. Summon guts and call him. My opening line is something along the lines of “Mr. Kirkland, my name is Joe McNally and I work for the New York Daily News. I have always admired your work and I wanted to come and show you my portfolio.” (At this point, “stalking” had not yet entered popular vernacular.)

He told me to come.

She owns a beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills, and the walls are decorated with dye transfer prints of some of the most legendary actresses in film. He sat down with me, and, being a gentleman, told me my stuff was amazing. He was very positive about my endeavors, and described a bright future. I’m so excited.

Later that same day, I made an appointment with Con Keyes, the director of photography at the LA Times at the time. He firmly told me that I would never make it.

I remember driving down the Pacific Highway to the pullover and sitting on a rock staring out at the ocean. I know that no judgment is completely correct, and the answer is somewhere in between. I also know the devastating reviews I received in the Times were actually more about the selfish powers of the reviewers, and therefore not so much about me. Later in the trip, I drove north to San Francisco, and once again got my stalker persona together and called legendary Magnum photographer Paul Fusco. He gave me measured, critical overviews where they were needed, but in the wastelands of my early work, he found sprouts of hope, and smattering of promise. He told me to take those little positives and work on them.

But Douglas, at the height of his rightful acclaim, with major magazines and film companies throbbing at his door, took the time to meet no one and cheer them on. No pretense, no inhibitions, no exaggerated ego. Just “Come on.” I remember walking on air out of his house. His review of my work totally reflects his attitude about this whole endeavor.

I have an original philosophy. I don’t want to create negative images about people, so I do everything I can to help make them feel comfortable on camera. That’s what will control your image, because you’re alone if your subject isn’t with you. And that’s the simple answer to getting good pictures.” said Kirkland when explaining how he was able to make his people’s personalities shine through.

The power of guidance. Strength only takes time. The joy of looking at the pictures. The soul-healing effect of being involved with someone who has an open heart and an open mind, and lives happily. And, fueling this, pure confidence in his own skills, confident enough to pass it on, and push, not crush from above. He taught me a lifelong lesson that day. He will be missed. It must be his eyes, and his boundless enthusiasm for the next photo or the next task. But also, in a polite way. We will never see his like again.

More thx….

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