Best of the States

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Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

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Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix. The team on the ground, which included Franklin and fellow Phoenix photographer Matt York, as well as visiting California photographers Jae Hong and Chris Carlson, fended off multiple attempts by competitors to give up a spot or share the space.

Az Republic

Franklin worked with McCain’s contacts to secure a prime position in the rotunda. But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere. A count of front pages the next day showed at least 39 uses of the picture, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic. The following day, as AP was trying to secure yet another unique angle at the church service, we were told by the McCain reps that the family was so impressed with our team and with that specific image that we could have any spot we needed at the church as well.

Reps for the McCain family were so impressed that they gave AP a choice of shooting positions for the church service.

The image was the signature moment of a comprehensive weeklong all-formats effort involving text, photo and video teams in Arizona. That coordinated coverage began with word of McCain’s death, and extended through the private ceremony, a public viewing and memorial church service, all the way to Air Force Two, wheels up returning to Washington.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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