The 59-year-old Martin suffered an apparent heart attack and died early Wednesday morning after working the sidelines at Texas A&M’s 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Friends and colleagues remembered Martin as a larger-than-life character who was always happy to share advice with fellow photographers who he often outshot.
Martin covered nearly every major news event in the South over the past 30 years — including Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill — and he traveled to sporting events around the world and to conflicts in Afghanistan, Haiti and Iraq. His award-winning visual storytelling was splashed across countless newspaper front pages and the covers of Sports Illustrated and other magazines.
At sporting events, he was well-known for always managing to get himself in the perfect position to take the shot of winning athletes dousing their coach with water or Gatorade. Done right, such images capture the flourish of airborne water caught in the stadium lights, but they require great timing and positioning.
Tuesday night’s game was no exception — Martin perfectly showed Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin’s startled but jubilant expression as he’s splashed.
“Every photojournalist in the country knows the trademark Dave Martin picture was the coach being dunked,” said AP South regional photo editor Mike Stewart, who first met Martin in 1989.
AP Vice President and Director of Photography Santiago Lyon said: “Dave Martin was an excellent photojournalist, a consummate and dedicated professional and a wonderful person. Wherever his work took him he made many friends and will be deeply missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Some of Martin’s most memorable images helped people around the world understand the toll of disasters in the South, such as a man wading through chest-deep floodwaters after Katrina with a garbage bag of belongings. Or the striking colors of oil droplets suspended in a cresting wave after the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
He won national journalism awards for images including one of golfer Phil Mickelson celebrating his 2004 win at the Masters and another of people bracing themselves against 90 mph winds next to an upended house in Key West, Fla., during Hurricane Georges in 1998.
“Anyone can shoot game action at sporting events or general news. Dave found MOMENTS,” former Mobile Press-Register photographer John David Mercer wrote in an email.
Martin took many young photographers under his wing, and Mercer said he learned a lot from Martin as a mentor — and competitor. As a young newspaper photographer, Mercer quickly found out that if he didn’t shoot an event well enough, his editors would use Martin’s photos instead.
On a Facebook tribute page set up Wednesday, dozens of photojournalists from around the country shared their memories of Martin. Many recalled his mischievous spirit and wicked sense of humor as well as his generosity.
“Through the years he taught hundreds of photographers about lighting and positioning and getting the most out of their gear,” said longtime friend and colleague Jay Reeves, AP’s correspondent in Birmingham, Ala. “In that way, he influenced so many news photos without even being on an assignment.”
But Martin’s help went beyond setting an example or offering advice.
“Dave would give you the shirt off his back, let you borrow a lens or move some photos if your laptop crashed,” Mercer said.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley described Martin as “one of the best photojournalists” he’d ever worked with.
“He traveled with me in the aftermath of the April 2011 tornado outbreak, and told the story of the storm’s devastation in some of the best photos I have seen,” Bentley said in a statement Wednesday.
Martin began his career as a photographer at the Lakeland Ledger in Lakeland, Fla., in 1982, before joining the AP as a staff photographer in Montgomery in 1983. In 2004, he became the AP’s regional photo editor for the South. Subsequently, he worked as a freelance photographer for several years before rejoining the AP in 2010 in Montgomery.
Despite the national awards, the man known as “Mullet” — after the fish, not the hairstyle — remained humble and focused on making sure everyone around him was having a good time. Many colleagues recall how his unflappable demeanor and jokes could cut through the tension during assignments.
“He’ll forever be known for the legendary parties he hosted known as ‘Mulletfests,’ which came with custom-made T-shirts (I still have all mine!), plenty of good food and drink, and a midnight tossing of that smelly, slimy fish in the middle of the street,” said AP sports writer Paul Newberry.
He was devoted to his wife, Jamie Martin, and their two children, Emily and Skip. Several colleagues remembered Martin’s pride after November’s Alabama-Auburn college football game — not because his own photo made the cover of Sports Illustrated, but because his son’s photo was featured in a two-page spread inside.
Reeves, the AP correspondent, fondly recalled how Martin’s perfectionist streak wasn’t limited to framing images at sporting events and disasters.
On their last assignment together, Reeves watched as Martin took time to get the perfect photo of sunlight streaming through a glass of beer. “He came away with a beautiful photo because he wasn’t willing to settle for the ordinary.”