The McNamee family has dedicated two generations
of men to the diligent and passionate chronicling of national events, politics,
the presidency, and war. They have captured images of humanity and heroism
from subjects as diverse as aging World War II veterans to Olympic stars.
They are humble men, devoted to the principles of family, patriotism, and
truth in journalism.
Wally McNamee, 65, is the Senior Contract Photographer at Newsweek magazine. His career spans four decades of American history. He has been named "White House Photographer of the Year" four times; and his work has been recognized with numerous awards given by the National Press Photographer's Association, The World Press, and The Art Director's Club in New York. In the competitive jungle of photojournalism, he is a lion.
Wally McNamee's career began in 1950, working as a copy boy for the Washington Post to pay his expenses at George Washington University. The raw excitement of being out in the street, in the thick of the action fired his imagination, galvanizing him to change his career path from newspaper writer to photojournalist.
Bounced out of G.W. for not going to enough classes, Wally McNamee took a cue from his film idol, John Wayne, and "parachuted" into a career with the U.S. Marine Corps. He studied aerial photography until, after much campaigning, he succeeded in getting his MOS changed to "Ground Photographer." "This, is where I learned the mechanics of taking pictures," he said emphatically. "I worked with a Speed Graphic in the military for three years."
In 1955, McNamee returned to the Washington Post as a copyboy, but by 1956, he was back on the streets, following the action with his camera. He said, "In twelve years at the Washington Post, I saw a dramatic change in news photography, from the large cumbersome 4x5 Speed Graphic, to the widespread use of 35mm miniature cameras."
McNamee joined the staff of Newsweek magazine,
in 1968, as their "Washington Photographer." It was a time of great unrest
in the world of photojournalism. The balance of power was shifting from
the monolithic Life magazine, to Time, and the "brash young upstart," Newsweek.
"35mm cameras revolutionized photojournalism, much the same way that the
digital camera is revolutionizing things today," McNamee said, leaning
back to take a sip of coffee. "35mm was more pure, less intrusive than
the Speed Graphic. I used the Nikon S-2 Rangefinder with one lens, a 35mm
"Win has the energy to get in there and
get the picture," he said proudly. "His pictures are dynamic, and compositionally
strong. This is a highly competitive field. People you see all the time
and joke with are at the same time your rivals. You're all trying to get
that shot.... I would hire him in a minute," he declared, "and not because
he's my son. Actually, it's really
neat now, because I get to watch him work. I'm usually behind him... He
can run faster than me..."
While Wally McNamee celebrates the iconic imagery of traditional American values, or the ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstance through the pursuit of service and excellence, Win McNamee is the cool detached observer. His pictures are edgy, and at times, cinematically riveting. He is a new-age photojournalist, perfectly at home in a world of digital cameras and satellite link-ups.
His love and respect for the man who is
father, mentor, and friend, is obvious. "I absorbed a lot by osmosis,"
Win said modestly. "His eye for good pictures, his passion for ethics in
journalism, his dedication to family, these were constants. Even though
he wasn't there all the time, the quality of time was there...."
Win McNamee is a senior staff photographer for Reuters News Service. From the beginning of his career, at The Columbia State Newspaper in South Carolina, Win was gathering notice and awards for his work. He won the newspaper's coveted Portfolio Award during his first year after graduating from The University of South Carolina with a degree in photography.
"My father used to say, 'If you want to be a good photographer, study a lot of photographs.' I grew up surrounded by images and the culture of photojournalists. They were his friends. But I was never pushed to become a photojournalist. In fact, I wasn't even actively encouraged.
"My dad gave me a Nikon Rangefinder after
I graduated from high school, and I left for The University of South Carolina.
I had been there one week when I called my parents and said, 'I'm going
into journalism...I want to be a photographer. After working for
The Columbia State, the 'adventure bug' bit hard. I wanted to test my mettle.
I wanted to chase 'the big story.' At that time, it was the elections in
The year was 1987. After checking in with Jimmy Colton, the International Pictures Editor at Newsweek magazine, Win McNamee wrangled an assignment-- to carry film to their man in Korea, Charlie Cole. Undaunted, and with only $2,000 and some Frequent Flyer Pan Am passes from his dad, Win set off for Korea.
After completing his mission, he tried his hand as a freelance photographer covering the Korean elections and riots for whoever would buy his pictures. He ended up with a Newsweek cover, much to the chagrin of the older, more seasoned photographer on the story.
Despite this victory, Win McNamee decided that taking pictures was far more fun than the "business" of pictures. Being true to himself, he decided to focus on making photographs, and leave the business end to somebody else. He joined Reuters in 1989, and has never looked back.
When asked what it was that made him decide
to take up his father's profession, Win McNamee, leaning forward in his
chair said, "I wanted to know what it was that made my father the way he
is..." he said, his blue eyes sharpening. "The internal strength
and integrity that he has...I wanted to see if I could bring that out in
myself. I wanted to do something that would make him proud of me."
--From "The English Patient," by Michael Ondaatje
For Wally McNamee, it was a surrendering of that which he loved so dearly, to treacherous dangers he knew all too well. Close photographer friends noted a certain emotional withdrawal, a brooding, as if his energy was focused elsewhere. The most poignant physical detail was the old Marine cap that he wore day after day, the outward symbol of a daily internal vigil that did not end until his son returned home.
It was as if by focused intention, he could
will his son protection from the dangers of the desert and the myriad dangers
of war. He used to say, "Stay away from the Radio Man," Win recalled later.
"They always go for the Radio Man first."
Win's "weapon of choice" is a Cannon Digital EOS-DCS 520. This is a second generation professional camera. "The great thing, is that there is no development, no waiting...the images are on a disc. I plug this into my laptop computer, call the image up in a program like Adobe Photoshop, lighten or darken it as needed, and 'zap' it down a telephone line to the nearest Reuters office, where it is transmitted by satellite to the client. In this business, speed and accuracy are of the essence. We are not the only news service competing to get pictures in. If we can get it to the client before, say, Associated Press, then our picture will be in the paper tomorrow morning...."
He squints at the pictures on the screen, "The speed and mobility that the new digital resources give a photographer are great. With a satellite phone and a laptop computer, I can send pictures from the most remote points on the globe. But, what I like best, what I find most exciting, is the creative control it gives the photographer over their own work. In my father's day, you had no control. You sent in your rolls of film and prayed that the film editors would get it right. Now, I can view and edit my own images. I decide what goes out."
When asked about the rewards and dangers
of the career he chose, Win replies, "There are a lot of rewards in this
business, from the unparalleled dangers and camaraderie of war, to the
opportunity to witness monumental events of history. It can be very absorbing,
and therein lies the danger...." He smiles wryly. "It can make your own
life seem pretty insignificant at times....
Regan Wallace McNamee entered the world on May 22, 1998, born to Beata and Win McNamee. Win is as delirious with love and pride as a young father can be. "This is what I am most proud of," he said, displaying the digital image of Regan.
This is the McNamee for the 21st Century. Perhaps he will continue the McNamee legacy of service to their country through the field of photojournalism. Who knows what the future will hold, how the world will change for the men and women who report the news, recording the history of tomorrow? Only time will tell....
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