The final word Joe McNally
Following an assignment to shoot one of his idols, Joe recalls their first ever meeting
Predictably, it all started with a photograph. David Douglas Duncan, one of Life’s preeminent photographers, was in Tokyo in post-war Japan, and Jun Miki, an equally formidable Japanese photographer, wanted to take his picture.
Duncan was sceptical, as the light of the day had faded. Miki persisted, and the next day he brought Duncan a print. It was so sharp, even though shot in tough lighting conditions, Duncan asked to be introduced to the people who were making this little-known lens – Nikkor.
In a very real way, this casual, almost accidental transaction between two photographers helped give rise to what is now Nikon. Duncan headed to cover the Korean War for Life, armed with Nikkor lenses. Back, at the Time-Life lab, they were stunned by the quality of Duncan’s negs, and numerous
Life staffers began clamouring for Nikkor glass. The rest, as they say, is history.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing Duncan, just a bit, for a long time. I photographed him with Richard Nixon in Manhattan years ago (inset). They had been wartime buds, and Duncan gifted Nixon his most recent book on Picasso. He called out: “Does anybody here remember Bougainville?” They had been stationed there, in the Solomon Islands, during the war. Nixon turned and was presented with the book.
The picture ran page one, and in a day or so, I got a call from Duncan. Could he have a print? I was stammering on the phone, and, of course, made him an 11x14. The man is a hero to me, and I grew up looking at his work. And he was on the phone? With this punk kid who had just learned which end of the camera to look through?
Fast-forward 35 years. I go to the south of France, assigned by Nikon to do portraits with Duncan. The history this man has seen! From WWII, when he served as a marine, to Korea, to Vietnam, to the Middle East, and along the way becoming a friend and confidante of Picasso… nothing short of an astonishing life. He is very matter of fact about it. “I know how to work a camera,” he has said.
Joe’s shot of Nixon and Duncan made the front pages decades previously