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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.' "

Joe McNally photo of a ballet dancer standing on a car hood in Havana, Cuba, in the middle of traffic.

© Joe McNally

Classic cars are everywhere to be photographed in Havana, but this shot required negotiation with the owner, who was cool with a ballerina standing on the hood. "People noticed us," Joe says, "but they soon moved on to the music that's almost always playing in almost every street. It was no big deal." D850, AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II, 1/800 second, f/2, ISO 400, manual exposure, Matrix metering.

Joe McNally photo of a ballet dancer in a barbershop

© Joe McNally

"When you're on assignment, sometimes a place suggests an odd or strange juxtaposition," Joe says, "and you think, Well, okay, let's do that. The local barbershops in Havana have tremendous character, and the people in this one were very friendly. They thought the idea was a hoot." D850, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, 1/15 second, f/6.3, ISO 320, manual exposure, Matrix metering.

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.

Joe McNally photo of a ballet dancer in mid leap in a kitchen.

© Joe McNally

Jossie Alonso in her kitchen. Her home, a gathering place for dancers and memories, was an inspiration for Joe's video. D850, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, 1/80 second, f/4, ISO 400, manual exposure, Matrix metering.

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."

Joe McNally photo of a male dancer in mid-leap

© Joe McNally

Joe photographed this dancer along the Malecón, Havana's famous coastline boulevard. "There are locations you need, editorially," he says, "but you need to add something, to bring something different." D850, AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR, 1/1600 second, f/5.6, ISO 400, aperture-priority exposure, Matrix metering.

Joe McNally photo of a ballet dancer on a balcony with hanging laundry

© Joe McNally

"In Havana you see laundry everywhere—it's part of life, part of the culture. So we negotiated with the lady for access, and I shot from the balcony of a building across the street." D850, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, 1/160 second, f/5.6, ISO 200, aperture-priority exposure, Matrix metering.

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."

Joe McNally photo of a dancer in air with a sunburst at sunrise

© Joe McNally

"I knew I wanted an image that would capture the Havana skyline," Joe says, and a dancer leaping across a rooftop at sunrise was the way to get it. D850, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, 1/8000 second, f/5.6, ISO 800, aperture-priority exposure, Matrix metering.

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'.

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