The fi­nal word Joe McNally

Fol­low­ing an as­sign­ment to shoot one of his idols, Joe re­calls their first ever meet­ing

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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

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