Ellis Island – Doorway to America « Joe McNally Photography


I always love going back to Ellis Island. Not only is this evocative, historical place an intrinsic part of our nation’s history, but a pertinent personal memory for me is that it is also the site of the first successful coverage I ever did for National Geographic in the late 80’s. I was a “New York” photog at point, a contractor for Sports Illustrated and other (mostly) Time, Inc. magazines. A big job for SI was maybe 5-8 days. Geographic called and gave me 30 days to shoot Ellis! 30 days! And this, for them, was a “small” story.

I started basically living on the island, visiting it in all manner of light. It was a wild, overgrown place at that time. History, emotions and ghosts commingled in the hallways.

We just finished two days of enriching, wonderful photo workshops on Ellis Island, out in the New York harbor. First time back on the island in four years. Working in conjunction with the Save Ellis Foundation, we toured areas of the island that are phenomenally interesting and off limits to the general public. The folks at Save Ellis do tremendous work to ensure the preservation of this historic place that was a gateway for so many.

Big thanks to our Save Ellis Island guides, who were amazing. Tom, Merlin, Jean and Karen were all terrific, guiding us, keeping us safe, and being fonts of wisdom and knowledge about Ellis.

And a thank you to all the hardy photographers who jumped on the island ferry in the very early morning to come to the island and catch the good light!

It’s a location worth getting up early for. Details, hauntingly beautiful, abound. Can’t say enough about the performance of the Nikkor 105 f2.8 micro, in tandem with the Nikon Z 9 in these types of situations. The AF is so sensitive and adaptable, and the 105 focuses super quick, and accurate. We’ve all grown up with micro lenses that searched for focus, and would grind back and forth, seeking, seeking. This combo is locked on, right off the bat. Put this gear into action with the pinpoint focus mode, and you have beautifully adaptable, super sharp micro performance.

And, we talk about light all day. How it graces and strikes objects, bringing out dimensional beauty. And, we teach flash in the morgue.

Caro posed for us, which was excellent. A model, actress, and wonderfully talented person, who works with Statement Arts, a nonprofit group orchestrated by Liza Politi, which works to empower young people from economically challenged backgrounds to excel and advance in the visual and theater arts.

Liza of course is already widely known, along with partner Ari Espay, for running Fancy Girl, Street Boy Productions which offers a series of terrific photo workshops all over the globe. (Another one coming up, close to home, where I team up again with Liza and Ari is in December. Christmas Lights in NYC!)

Back to the portrait shoot in the morgue. Caro was patient with me as I worked with Profoto A10 units and the very handy Pro Clic softboxes.

The demo got occasionally humorous.

Ellis always echoes in my head and my heart when I am able to return there. I made this picture yesterday. The doors are still there, and they are still open.

Thanks to all, especially the Save Ellis Foundation. Check out their website, it’s an excellent repository of history and information.

It was, as always, a wonderful day of discovery with cameras in hand.

More tk….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *