“... the most incredible event I have ever covered.”
– Houston photographer David J. Phillip
For more than a decade, Washington photo editor Jon Elswick has negotiated with the Department of Defense over coverage plans for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, while Houston photojournalist David Phillip fostered a relationship with the Bush family and their spokesman to secure AP’s shooting positions for the eventual funeral events.
Those relationships built with the military and with family liaisons were crucial to arranging and executing coverage, paving the way for more than two dozen staffers to parachute in and do their part to tell the story in real time and for the history books.
When we received the news of Bush’s death, the photo operation immediately acted on that advance work. Elswick began corresponding with his DOD contact to confirm all of AP’s previously negotiated designated photo positions in both Washington and Texas. Then Elswick and Phillip worked through complex conversations with AP managers and their contacts to ensure the best access for AP photographers.
As funeral plans were announced, the AP team of 26 photographers and photo editors quickly assembled in Washington, Houston and College Station, Texas. Milwaukee photojournalist Morry Gash flew into Washington to rig a remote-controlled camera that captured a stunning bird’s-eye view of the U.S. Capitol rotunda during visitation and services, and Washington photojournalist Alex Brandon was in the funeral motorcade, literally hanging out of the car window to get key shots in Washington.
In Texas, David Phillip worked with the official Bush family photographers every step of the way, from the church floor to the presidential library, and he even negotiated to shoot inside the railroad car carrying the coffin as the funeral train passed through Texas towns. Phillip called it “the most incredible event I have ever covered.”
The rest of photo team did what they do best: produce outstanding images without missing a beat.
Photos streamed on the wire throughout the six-day event as photographers sent files wirelessly from their cameras to Washington photo editors Wayne Partlow and Elswick, who promptly moved the images to the world. Central photo editor Bob Graves in Chicago jumped in to help move photos when some locations experienced poor connectivity. Their efforts paid off with dominating play on front pages, online and in print.
The photo coverage was part of an impressive dayslong cross-format effort by scores of AP staff across the country and globe that included hours of live video and spot and breaking text, video, audio and graphics coverage that explored Bush’s life and presidency from every angle.
For exceptional planning and execution on one of the largest news events of the year, this week’s Best of the States goes to the team of photo staff covering the Bush funeral.