Friday, March 9, 2012

Frank McMahon: Visual Journalist

Talk about witnessing history! The journalistic career of Franklin McMahon, took him everywhere from Mission Control to watch the first moon landing, to the Chicago Eight trial, to the Watergate hearings, the Vatican, and the inner workings of the European Common Market. McMahon, who died Saturday at age 90, recorded it all with a pencil and sketchpad.

In 1955, Life magazine hired McMahon to cover the Emmett Till trial in Mississippi. Till was the black teenager visiting from Chicago who, after whistling at a white woman, was taken from his uncle’s home in the middle of the night and brutally murdered. McMahon recorded visual snippets of testimony and he captured the truly historic moment of Till’s uncle being the first black person to testify against a white person in Mississippi. (The white male defendants, who were acquitted by the white, male jury, later admitted to the killing for a paid magazine story.)

Read about McMahon’s life and the global reach of his journalistic pursuits in his Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame bio.

At the end of the New York Times obit, there is an attempt to define exactly who this man, with no definable job category, was. First there’s a paragraph describing what he was not, and then McMahon gives us what I think, is a perfect definition of a visual journalist.
Mr. McMahon insisted he was not a courtroom artist, although he was widely praised for his coverage of the Chicago Eight … He also said he was not an illustrator, although he was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. He was definitely not a portraitist, he said, because he never met his subjects. “I sit in the corner and make drawings of them,” he said.
And he even rejected the label of artist, though his work has been shown at many museums, including the Smithsonian. What he was, he said, was simply a reporter, who used art to tell stories.

Slideshow of Franklin McMahon's work at Chicago Reader

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