I’ve had the opportunity to consult with many skilled photographers over the years, but when Joe McNally‘s studio manager contacted me about working on their print portfolio, I was both excited and flattered. For 30 years, Joe has been busily shooting for LIFE, National Geographic, and dozens of other well-respected publications. His commercial clients include FedEx, Nikon, and GE, just to name a few. Joe is based in Ridgefield, Connecticut, but teaches workshops around the world when he is not on assignment. He has also been known to write an occasional book. With all that on his plate, Joe had not updated his portfolio in some time.
Lynn, Joe’s studio manager, contacted me in April to start the process of a Print Edit. She and the rest of Joe’s staff played a major role in the process; I gave them the task of editing Joe’s enormous library to a scant 600 photos. They supplied me with a broad cross-section of work from the past few years— everything from portraits of Muppets and ballerinas on board nuclear submarines, to a maintenance man dangling from the top of the world’s tallest skyscraper. Lynn described Joe as one of the few generalists still succeeding in New York, and looking at these images, I saw what she meant. My challenge would be not only selecting his best work, but creating an organization that showed his varied abilities in a way that was compact and coherent.
Mississippi Bluesmen, elephants in the circus, FedEx at work around the world, stealth planes on an aircraft carrier, and Kermit the Frog. I knew that it wasn’t all going to fit. Too often I’ve picked up a portfolio from a great photographer, and ended up skipping 5-10 pages at a time to get through a tome of great photographs. Lynn and I agreed that I would be merciless in my edit, keep it short and sweet, and when they were ready to start editing a monograph, I would be available for that too. I tried not to let the dizzying variety phase me, did my initial edit, made my prints, and started categorizing. Once I had grouped the work together, I started narrowing down by specialty, and asking myself, “what can logically fit into one book, and what is most important to include?” When editing a book, it is even more important than a website that it be targeted. A website may be able to accommodate a lot of variety, but if I selected one image from all of Joe’s specialties, the presentation would be a mess.
What I came up with was a breezy edit that included studio and environmental portraiture, music/performing arts, sports/fitness, as well as industrial and aviation photography. It covers a lot of ground, but is thoughtfully sequenced and uses images that transition smoothly from one set to the next. What I wanted to highlight were Joe’s style of lighting and his incredible experience. As Lynn put it,
There are hundreds of photographers in New York who can shoot a beautiful portrait, but how many can work comfortably on a submarine or aircraft carrier?
Everyone at the studio was very pleased with the edit, and they are now in the process of producing the printed versions.