Tragedy is never easy to come to terms with. These days, it seems as though it surrounds us more than usual, and its ubiquity has done nothing to soften its rough edges. All of us know this, because we have all faced the death of a loved one, friend or colleague. Nothing can really prepare us for it.
I lost my older sister last year. My father had passed away years earlier. Both deaths were unexpected and caught my family off guard. We have wonderful memories of them both, but there are days when their absence is felt profoundly.
That same feeling of absence is touching the photographic community here in D.C. after the sudden passing of Getty Images photographer Mark Wilson. I had the pleasure of working alongside him while covering Capitol Hill and the White House as a photo intern for U.S. News & World Report in 2001.
My memories of him are that he was very focused on his job, always positioning himself to make sure he got the best photo from whatever event we were recording. It sounds simple, but it is far from that. After all, photographers covering Washington are acting as the eyes of history. That adds a hefty dose of pressure to what already requires great skill.
Working the politics beat in Washington requires exquisite timing, patience and a thorough knowledge of who’s who in the political world. Wilson had all of that and proved it over and over again.
Win McNamee, chief photographer for news at Getty Images, shared the following tribute of Wilson with In Sight:
“Prizewinning photojournalist Mark Wilson, who worked for Getty Images for more than 20 years, covering four presidents, NASA launches, severe weather, NASCAR races, and general news assignments in the Washington D.C. area died Wednesday November 18 at home in Owings, Md at the age of 65.
Wilson had a remarkable career in photojournalism, particularly given his late start in the profession. Prior to wielding cameras for a living, Wilson ran his own boat engine repair business from a van that he would drive to marinas in the Washington area, developing relationships through initiative and determination. It was at one of these marinas where he met Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Ron Edmonds, an avid boater and bass fisherman, who worked for the Associated Press.
Wilson struck up a conversation with Edmonds and asked him what he did for a living. When Edmonds said he was a photojournalist, Mark said that sounded like a great way to earn a living and continued to contact Edmonds for advice about breaking into the business. Eventually Edmonds invited Wilson to his home to see some of his work where Wilson said, ‘I think I could do that.’ With Edmonds acting as his mentor, Wilson was off and running.
Wilson quickly developed a reputation in the Washington D.C. photojournalism community as an early riser, tireless worker, fierce competitor, and genuinely good-natured colleague who would offer help to nearly anyone who asked, and often to those who did not.
In October of 2012 after Superstorm Sandy hit the New York and New Jersey region causing extensive damage, Getty Images Special Correspondent Al Bello received a phone call from a phone number he didn’t recognize. Bello’s home in Merrick, New York had been devastated by 5 feet of water coursing through the first floor due to the storm and Wilson had heard of the damage. When Bello answered the phone a voice said, “Al Bello? This is Mark Wilson, Getty Images, News department. What are you doing tomorrow?” Bello was astonished. He and Wilson had never met before.
Wilson told Bello he wanted to help him get his house back together following the storm and that he would be there the next morning at 7:30 a.m. after driving from Washington DC with a truck full of supplies, including industrial fans to dry out Bello’s home, space heaters, generators, and gasoline to power everything.
When Bello’s phone rang the next morning at 7:20 a.m., Wilson’ voice came booming through again. ‘Al Bello? This is Mark Wilson, Getty Images, News department. I’m at McDonald’s. What do you want for breakfast?’ Bello told Wilson he didn’t usually eat at McDonald’s but thanked him for the offer. Wilson replied, ‘Well, you’re eating McDonald’s today. We have a lot of work to do. You need breakfast. Will bring you pancakes. See you in ten minutes.’
As soon as Wilson arrived, Bello said, ‘He was like a Tasmanian devil, a Whirling Dervish. He proceeded to run around my house for the next 8 hours setting up fans, heaters and filling generators with gasoline.’ Then at 4 p.m. Wilson abruptly turned to Bello and said ‘I gotta head back to DC now,’ shook Bello’s hand, hopped in his truck, and drove off. Bello said he shook his head and thought to himself, ‘Who was that masked man?’
Wilson made a point of rarely telling people about the random acts of kindness he performed. He believed the act itself was what counted, not the recognition for having performed it. In fact, Wilson avoided attention of any type throughout his career, preferring instead for his work and actions to speak for him.
When asked in an interview with Wired what he thought his role as a photographer was, Wilson said, ‘I started at Getty Images 20 years ago, in 1999, and I’ve covered Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Trump. I view my role as a photographer — more so now than ever in covering this administration — as a duty or a service to provide a historical record for people to look back on hundreds of years from now.’
Among the many traits that made Wilson successful as a photographer were his tenacity, enterprising nature, and preparation for each assignment. Wilson rarely relied on photographic gimmickry to produce his pictures. Frequently, an element of humor or key timing were his trademarks. Few people outthought Wilson on any assignment and that was a testament to the preparation he performed for each job he was assigned."
In a personal remembrance of Wilson, McNamee added:
“Years ago, Doug Mills [from the New York Times] nicknamed Wilson ‘The Tank.’ It’s a nickname that stuck for good reason. Mark was an absolute rock of a man, immovable in many respects, strong, loyal, and caring. Quite simply, he was the kind of person you always wanted on your side. As a co-worker we couldn’t ask for more; as a competitor he could best be described as fierce. He also had what could be misconstrued as an intimidating demeanor if you didn’t already know him. What you found once past that exterior was an absolute gem of a gentleman, full of good humor, curiosity, constant surprises, and limitless skills. Listening to Mark talk to his wife on the phone when he was away from home working on a story was perhaps the most revealing. His tough guy voice would drop to a soft, almost whisper-like tone, asking Annette how everything was at home, checking on his daughters Kyndra and Sierra. This was the Mark his friends came to love. Tough and salty on the outside, soft and kind on the inside, a man for all seasons.”
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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