Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year News: The Good & The Bad

New Year's Hawk 2014
One of the first things I saw out our front window this morning was a redtail hawk in the tree next to the driveway. I see these magnificent birds everywhere I go, especially while traveling as they perch on fence rows, in treetops and on electrical power poles. I even have a tattoo on my left shoulder of one from a photo I took several years ago. I always know I'm being watched over when I see a hawk. That's the good news.

This time I think he was a messenger of bad news. Soon after I saw him and took some photos, I checked Facebook and saw a post from a fellow photographer about the sudden passing of AP photographer Dave Martin who I had worked with at Talladega the last few years. Dave apparently collapsed after shooting the Chick-Fil-A bowl game in Atlanta, taking photos right to the end. I will miss him a bunch as he taught me so much about wire service photography and always treated me well when I would make the 500 mile trek to Talladega twice a year. I can't believe I am starting off the new year with a post about another photographer friend who has passed away, but then we are all getting older and I've been doing this for quite awhile myself so I suppose it is inevitable. If you want to know more about him then please read the AP "Big Story" article which I first saw on Facebook this morning.

Dave Martin
Dave's nickname was "Mullet", not for the hairstyle but for the "Mullet Festival" party he used to throw at his home, which apparently involved cooking mullet fish and then throwing fish guts at some point in the evening once the party really got rolling. I heard the whole story about the nickname this past October while hanging out with Dave, other AP staffers and photographers at dinner at the Tilted Kilt in Birmingham after a day's shooting at Talladega. The "Festival" earned some degree of notoriety for Dave and even made the television news one year in a segment about things to do in town that night. Quite a crowd showed up unexpectedly as you might imagine. And Dave was quite the storyteller so I will really miss his wit and wisdom. I admired him for knowing what he wanted to do and going after it. He told me about taking photography classes in a rigorous program in Florida where he got his start, and taking photos to the local paper and asking that they consider using them just so he could get images published.

Dave had a love-hate relationship with Talladega but he had been covering the races there for so long that it was not really surprising as there had been a lot of changes at the track, and not all of them had been favorable to the media. I loved his stories about Dale Earnhardt parking his motorhome right next to the AP building in the media area and sharing barbeque or gumbo with the legend. His stories about other photographers were priceless, and I especially loved the one about a stringer who was shooting a crash and in mid sequence turned to shoot a babe flashing her ta-tas in the infield and then finished the crash sequence without missing a beat. That sequence was in the days of film shooting so apparently the photo editor had quite a moment when he realized the infield babe pix were taken in the middle of the crash sequence. Another favorite story he would tell was about the infield drunk who stole the pace car before a NASCAR race at Dega and took it for a joy ride around the track with Alabama state troopers in pursuit. When he and the other AP veterans would share stories about shooting Super Bowls or covering the Olympics, I was spellbound. I knew when I went to Talladega that I would hear more stories and I always looked forward to that. I am saddened that I won't have that opportunity again with Dave. Dave was the first person I heard use the phrase "let's go make some pictures" and he would always talk about how important it was to tell the story of the event through our images. The post-race slideshows were a thing of beauty and I was always amazed at how quickly he would sift through everyone's images and pick the ones that told the story. Dave was also highly competitive, having lived through all the changes in the media industry during his career. He would emphasize being safe and doing our work in a way which would top the competition, going for quality over quantity every time.

As I thought about this news earlier today, I remembered thinking on my drive back from Talladega this past October that I needed to suggest to Dave that we take a group photo of all the AP photographers working the race next spring. I'm saddened that we won't get to do that with Dave; I wish I had thought of it sooner. We are most often behind the camera and perhaps he would have wanted it that way. It is with sympathy and condolences for Dave's wife, family and friends that I write this post. AP has lost a dedicated photographer and we have lost a friend.

RIP Mullet. I thank you for all that you've done for me. May God bless your soul and comfort your loved ones through their loss.

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