I didn't sleep much last night. I couldn't sleep. I kept thinking about Dave Martin. Dave Martin, my friend and AP photographer, passed away New Year's Day after collapsing at the Chik-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. I thought maybe writing about this would help.
I thought about the first time I really met Dave. I had met Dave earlier, but the first time I really got to work with him was the deadly tornado which slammed into Airport Road in November 1989. It the first time I'd ever worked any news event like the tornado which killed dozens. I had been working the scene since the tornado hit a few hours before. By the time I got back to the newsroom it was packed with journalists from all over. I remember I was running around like crazy talking to reporters, editors and other photographers, trying to make a deadline. There, in the middle of all the chaos, was Dave Martin.
I remember I felt like I was drowning. I had only been working a few months and this was an overwhelming experience. Some of my friends had been in the path of the tornado and I hadn't heard from them. I was trying to keep up but I felt like the world was coming down all around me. Dave looked at me and asked what I was doing. I must have babbled some incoherent nonsense. he looked at me and told me to calm down, breathe, and prioritize my assignments. He also said 'Now, go out there and get me some photos.' He seemed to have a plan, he seemed in control, and he worked for the Associated Press. But he told me in a way, I don't know how to explain it, that I knew I would be ok if I listened to him. I did and it was ok. That year my photo of the tornado won first place in spot news. It was one of the photos I shot after my chat with Dave. I feel like I owe Dave Martin for that one.
I think everyone in Alabama worked with Dave at one time or another, either at a football game, in Selma, at a tornado. If you knew anything about shooting in the South, you knew Dave Martin. Mullet would always encourage you to make better photos…and then send them to the wire.
My rule when shooting with Dave? Stay close to Dave. Over the years of seeing Dave make fantastic photos over and over I decided that was the way I was going to make good photos. One game I shadowed him the whole game, trying to see what he saw. He knew the habits of the players, he knew the personality of the coaches, he kept up with the situation, and he always got the photo. Even when I tried to keep with with Dave, I found myself struggling to keep up. He had an energy I can't explain. Over the years I became convinced Dave had the ability to time travel and teleport. How else could anyone be in all the places and make the images he made?
But Dave was more than just an AP photographer. He was a friend to everyone, he was a mentor to everyone, he was a comedian to everyone. Dave had a gift for connecting with people, photographers as well as his subjects. Dave was, without a doubt, one of the best photographers I have ever met. His photos stand on their merit. More importantly, Mullet was one of the best journalists I know. In anyone else, all these gifts might cause someone's head to swell or build their ego. Not with Dave. Dave was the most humble, helpful, and approachable people I have ever met.
For those of you who were able to work with him everyday, I envy you. Working with Dave was always a pleasure. I got to see him during his occasional visits to the Rocket City and at major news or sporting events. Even though I only saw him occasionally he made me feel like I was his closest friend. Everyone found a way to bond with Mullet. I think that was his gift, he made everyone feel like they were important to him. I think, somehow, everyone was important to Dave.
From all the messages, texts, and tweets, it is clear how much Dave's contemporaries thought of him. I wish I could find the words to bring comfort to his family and friends. I had the privilege to get to know Jamie. I pray peace and comfort find Jamie in these hard days. I saw Skip recently when he stopped by my studio during a visit to Huntsville. Hard to imagine I threw Skip and Emily around in the pool at Orange Beach all those years ago. I will keep them in my prayers.
I'll always think of Dave when I reach for my wide angle lens. I'll think of Dave when I pass a Mexican restaurant. I'll always think of Dave in a stadium work room. I'll always think of Dave when I grab a nice frame and wonder if I should work harder to get a better frame.
I'll never delete his last text to me - 'Thanks Vern'.
Thanks, Mullet. Thanks for everything.