Visual Possibility: Joe McNally Creates a Moving, Memorable Video


© Joe McNally

Dancers in Cuba – Joe McNally captures dancers in a grand old home.

Three minutes, ten seconds.

That's how long it took Joe McNally to introduce you to Jossie Alonso and create the atmosphere for her narrative in the video above.

Think about that for a moment—about the power and accessibility of the tools that make videos like Joe's possible. That make it possible for all of us to express, interpret, comment, share, even influence.

"I talk about that all the time in my workshops," Joe says. "About how we're living in an extraordinary time when technology is so amazing [and] we can accomplish so much. We can shoot our own videos, put them on the web and have someone half a world away instantly see them. It's all at our fingertips now, and it really enables us as storytellers."

Here's Joe's story of the video.

Return Engagement

Several years ago, while conducting a workshop in Havana, a mutual friend introduced Joe to Jossie Alonso. "I've shot dance all my life," he says, "and Cuban dancers are famous worldwide—they're amazing, and the dance community there is vibrant and creative. I wanted to do some dance photographs, and Jossie's house, with its beautiful window light, is often used as a location for photographing dancers. My friend said that if I wanted to bring in a dancer, Jossie would be amenable. I had an extra day, so I said, 'Sure, let's do it.' "

The results were mixed. "The pictures were nice," Joe says, "but I kept seeing possibilities I couldn't act on because of the short time. But you know photographers: we're like file cabinets. Visual possibility? File it away."

Three years later, Joe returned to Cuba for another workshop, and this time he allowed an additional ten days to bring the opportunity out of the cabinet.

Invitation to the Dance

Joe's passion for photographing dancers is career-long and ongoing. Among the attractions are the athleticism, the motion and the precise artistry, but there's something else, something far more important and personal.

"Dancers have active imaginations," Joe says, "and they respond to and can physically interpret my active imagination. They can embrace a creative emotion or idea—they get it."

The three-year-old idea of shooting dance stills at Jossie's house led to shooting stills in several locations in Havana and a video at Jossie's house that Joe says is "a little bit of Jossie's history and the history of the house. I guess you could call it biographical."

The settings for many of the stills come from another aspect of his dance photography. "One thing I've done somewhat consistently is try to relate the artists to environments that have meaning, as well as those that may be somewhat illogical, but still beautiful," he says. "I’m visually inspired by Havana, so, for example, the car picture was a natural. It was also a picture that I absolutely and completely previsualized, months before I went to Cuba. I knew I wanted to [put] a dancer on the hood of a car because the car culture in Havana is so powerful."

And so was the car culture on the Internet, as Joe found out. "I got reactions to that photo along the lines of, Oh, how could you do that to that poor car! I had to point out that the body of that car was late 1950's solid steel, and she's a petit ballerina in soft shoes."

Stories, it seems, often have postscripts, and our postscript to this story is a reminder that we're responsible for the amazing technology Joe used to create his story.

Just sayin'.

The results of Joe's active imagination are featured at his website, When you visit, don't miss the behind-the-scenes blog.

Joe McNally is an internationally acclaimed photographer whose career has spanned 30 years and included assignments in over 50 countries. He has shot cover stories for TIME, Newsweek, Fortune, New York, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times Sunday Magazine and Men’s Journal. Two of Joe's books, The Moment It Clicks and The Hot Shoe Diaries, both cracked Amazon’s top ten list of best sellers. Visit his website at and ambassador page.

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