Talk to any fighter pilot from any era and they’ll tell you the only two planes that matter are P51 Mustang (propeller plane) and the F14 tomcat jet plane. TIME Magazine sent me on an assignment to photograph the last F14 to come off the assembly in Grumman. Suffice it to say it was very prestigious. Like all my assignments I always try to go a little bit further. So I got permission from the commanding officer to mount two cameras in the back with the weapons control officer. I used a NikonF with motor drive and 15mm lens, Kodachrome 64. at 1/250 at f/8. In a couple weeks you’ll see another P51 blog and see how many G’s I can go through.
While working on an essay called America, I came across some college students at the U of A who were heavy into mountain biking. We did all of the classic cliché photos and then I decided we can do better. So I took one of the small Canon cameras with a 15mm lens and a remote cord and put it at the end of a painters pole and was actually able (for a millisecond) to get the camera under the tire as the young man did a wheely.
The tulips are coming up, seems like the snow is almost gone and the Indy cars are starting to run. Remember what I said, one camera, one lens, all the time. Here’s a shot from the old days with one of my assistants. Count the cameras. Thank god for assistants. Would hate to be looking at his MRI today. On a recent Formula One, which in many ways is much more difficult than the Indy 500, I used 2 cameras and 2 lenses. Two Canon 5D Mark III, one 80mm-200 f/2.8 zoom and a second 5D Mark III with grip and 400mm f/5.6 and carrying a 1.4 extender. Gitso Monopod and 6 lexar cards, 8 gigs up to 32 gigs Simple. Keep it simple. The photograph on the bottom was named by Sports Illustrated as the third best photograph of all time of the last 100 years.
About a month ago, I put together a focusing ring that would allow me to turn a Singh-Ray Vari-ND and the Blue-N-Gold to change the value of light and color, without touching the filter or the camera. I used some of my favorite tools, duct tape and crazy glue.
In a casual conversation with Carl Saieva from Sartek Industries Inc., – a world class designer and engineer. He said to send him a picture and he’d see what he could do. Well, this is what he did. He machined the parts. They’re super slick, smooth, easy to assemble, and did I mention that they work really well? This is the difference between a consumate professional and a hack. My intentions are good and sometimes the end result actually works, but most of the time it looks like shit. Thank God for great friends!
Well, next year it’ll have been 30 years since I loaded film into your Nikons at the 1982 Indy 500. It was a complete thrill to finally be able to work the other side of the fence after growing up at the track each May tagging along with my Dad. Of course things have changed a bit since then. In addition to the digital revolution, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has undergone a major facelift and is a World-class facility. I started shooting the 500 for Reuters in 1990 and have been back ever since. Last year, I had the honor of having my college-aged daughter, Ainslie, join the family “business” and become the 4th generation of Millers to pick up a camera at the 500. Back at the 1982 you captured the memorable image of the Johncock/Mears finish, and who knew that 24 years later in 2006 I’d repeat the feat by capturing the Hornish/Andretti finish that would appear double-trucked in SI as well as the NY Times.
I am so proud of you not only as a photographer but as one hell of a fine human being. There are very few young people that would give up their bed back in the day so we could get to the Indy 500 at 5 A.M. to beat the traffic. And like many of my assistants, you did so much more than just load film into my Nikons. Without your help, that photograph would not have been done. It’s something that I’ve been aware of my whole life. We tend to think we work in isolation. We tend to think how important we are. But the same way that Rick Mears would say “It’s a team effort”, I say the same thing. We worked as a team. Your work is amazing. You deserve everything that you get and some more. And who knows- maybe in the next couple of years, we’ll have an opportunity to work together again. Keep on shooting and remember the first rule of photographing racecars: Never turn your back on one.
“In a world that seems to be moving at light speed, the new technologies should be embraced. We as visual communicators should always remember the photograph comes first. The content is more important than the pixels or the manipulation after the fact.
My love affair for this medium has only grown ten-fold. With the advent of digital it’s like starting all over again. Our future generations will look back at this time the way we looked back to the Lumiere brothers. What a great time to be involved in photography and filmmaking.”
As a photographer, one of the first things you learn is eye-hand coordination. Your ability to look at 300 people, 7 people, front-lit, back-lit, and see the photo that you want to make. And before you can even think about it, you’ve made 3 or 4, each one a variation of a theme, not just a motor sequence. Making back lit adjustments on the fly, always thing about where the next photograph is going to come. That’s the good news. The bad news can be all of those things that work against you. And you miss the obvious. It’s happened to me before, and I’m pretty sure it’ll happen to me again. You never want to have blinders on. You want to be open to new lighting, new composition, new stories, and new direction. Invariably, you will grow and your work will improve accordingly. While looking at this very beautiful young lady and preparing to do a very shallow, depth of field simple photograph, I look down and to my right and saw one eye and one sideburn and a little bit of a mustache. I said “Oh my god, could that be Melchior DiGiacomo?” I took the photograph, looked down, I tapped him on the shoulder, and he said “Joe D., just a minute”. I guess it’s like two chubby italians meeting in the daylight, or is that two ships in the night? I can never get it right. The funny thing about it is I haven’t seen Melchoir in 30 years. And my god, nothing’s changed! It’s good that there is some consistency in this universe.