The Generalist

In a wide-ranging career, Joe McNally has at various times been a newspaper photographer, a wire service shooter, a general assignment magazine photog, and a commercial/corporate/advertising photographer. Over time he has added author and director to that list of endeavours. He currently resides in Connecticut and counts New York City as his photographic home, and the origin point for his career.

Joe McNally’s career has spanned close to 40 years. McNally was the last staff photographer in the history of LIFE magazine, and while there, won the first Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Journalistic Impact for a LIFE coverage titled, “The Panorama of War.” He has been honoured numerous times by Communication Arts, PDN, Graphis, American Photo, POY, and The World Press Photo Foundation. He shot the first all-digital story in the history of National Geographic Magazine, December 2003, called, “The Future of Flight.” His prints are in numerous collections, most significantly the National Portrait Gallery of the United States and National September 11 Memorial & Museum. McNally is represented by the prestigious Monroe Gallery of Photography.

McNally is often described as a generalist because of his ability to execute a wide range of assignment work, and was listed at one point by American Photo as one of the “100 Most Important People in Photography” and described by the magazine as “perhaps the most versatile photojournalist working today.” His expansive career has included being an ongoing contributor to National Geographic—shooting numerous cover stories and highly complex, technical features for the past 25 years; a contract photographer for Sports Illustrated; as well as shooting cover stories for TIME, Newsweek, Fortune, New York, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine

McNally’s most well-known series is “Faces of Ground Zero – Portraits of the Heroes of September 11th,” a collection of 246 Giant Polaroid portraits shot in the Moby c Studio near Ground Zero in a three-week period shortly after 9/11. A large group of these historic, compelling, life-size (9’ x 4’) photos were exhibited in seven cities in 2002, and seen by almost a million people. Sales of the exhibit book helped raise over $2 million for the 9/11-relief effort. This collection is considered by many museum and art professionals to be one of the most significant artistic endeavours to evolve from the events of 9/11.

He regularly writes a popular, irreverent blog ( about the travails, tribulations, oddities and high moments of being a photographer, and has authored several noteworthy books on photography, two of which, The Moment It Clicks and The Hot Shoe Diaries, cracked Amazon’s Top Ten list of best sellers. In those books and the blog, he tends to share the ups and downs of the important and at the same time mildly madcap endeavour of being a photographer with honesty and humour.