Saturday, January 11, 2014

Honoring a Storyteller

By Mark Alpert

I had a great time over the holidays. We went to my brother-in-law’s house in Maine for Christmas, found a fantastic tea shop in Portland, read an amazing Alan Moore graphic novel (“From Hell”) about Jack the Ripper, went skiing at Shawnee Peak, and drank a lot of Oxbow beer. But when we returned to New York after New Year’s I saw a sad news item on my Facebook feed. Dave Martin, an extraordinary longtime photographer for the Associated Press, suffered a heart attack at the Georgia Dome football field while covering a New Year’s Eve bowl game and died shortly afterward. He was 59.

I met Dave in November 1985 in the newsroom of the Montgomery Advertiser. I’d arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, just the day before; I was 24 years old, and George Wallace was still the state’s governor. It was my first day as a reporter at the newspaper and the city editor was taking me around the newsroom, introducing me to everyone on the staff. At the end of the tour I met Dave, who worked for the AP but used the Advertiser’s photo room. He was tubby, ruddy-faced, perpetually smiling, and had a bushy mustache like Charley Weaver’s (remember him from Hollywood Squares?) This was our first conversation:

Dave: You’re the new guy, right? Listen, we’re gonna call you Astro.

Me: Astro?

Dave: Yeah, we heard you had a degree in astrophysics, so we’ve been calling you Astro for a couple of weeks now, ever since we heard you got the job.

Me: Okaaaay.

Dave: You don’t mind, do you? It’s a good nickname. And you can call me Mullet. That’s what everyone calls me.

His nickname referred to the fish, not the haircut. The mullet is a plain old bottom-feeder, plentiful in the Gulf of Mexico, not highly prized by the gourmands but not bad-tasting either. A proletarian fish, if you will. And the journalist named Mullet was a proletarian photographer. He chronicled the lives and passions of working people. He took heartbreaking shots of men and women staggering through floodwaters, weeping at crime scenes, huddling in emergency shelters. And he captured heartwarming moments of celebration, especially on basketball courts and NASCAR tracks and golf links and football fields. He was a storyteller, outshining all the journalists whose words framed his pictures. His photographs put our articles to shame.

He was also a party animal. He staged an annual shindig at his house called the MulletFest, which was by far the most debauched event that ever occurred in Montgomery. We shared a beach condo on the Gulf one weekend -- my girlfriend at the time was friends with his -- and we had so much fun playing cards that my girlfriend got ticked off and decided that our relationship wasn’t going to work after all. Mullet was hard to resist. He was just so absurdly cheerful all the time.
But Dave’s natural element was college football, especially Southeastern Conference matchups like the perennial Auburn-Alabama mêlée known as the Iron Bowl. His trademark photograph was the ritual Gatorade-dousing of the winning coach at the end of the game, and he always raced into the scrum of photojournalists on the field to get the perfect angle. If you go to this web page you’ll see a sampling of Mullet’s dunk shots. The first photograph on the page is the one he took at the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve just moments before he collapsed. Right until the very end he did what he loved.


  1. Love the picture of Mark Hudspeth.

    I seem to remember seeing his name attributed to photos but never knew, or heard, anything about him. So though I'm sorry for your loss, thank you for bringing him to my attention, and making him real.

  2. A great tribute. A good photographer, like a good writer, usually disappears from the reader's radar because the work is so compelling. It's nice to have a little more insight into Dave Martin.