AP Photographer Kathy Willens Retires, Reflects On Career


What were the big stories of the day?

One that spoke to me were stories about Haitian and Cuban immigrants, stories that were huge and ongoing. Everything happened in 1980, it was an insane year. There was no other year like it, except for now. That year was similarly transformational for me and everyone else in Miami. There were the 1980 McDuffie Riots, and then the Cuban Mariel boatlift. [The McDuffie riots] were the aftermath of the acquittal of four white policemen in the death of a Black man. That first night many people died in the violence and chaos. I couldn’t leave the office to photograph, the phone was ringing all night long and I answered it. I reached out to J. Scott Applewhitethen a freelancer, who went out to photograph for AP.

And the Haitian immigration and migration stories. Those were really close to me. I became close with a Haitian activist priest named Reverend Gérard Jean-Juste, and he gave me great access to tell these refugee stories. Those photos are very close to me, but some of them were never shown. Before I left, I let the Associated Press scan them in so they could be kept in the archives.

Hurricane Andrew was a huge story in Miami as well. Latin America was always a big story. Nicaragua, the Iran-Contra scandal and Oliver North. I also went to El Salvador. When I transferred to the [AP’s] New York bureau in 1993, I went to Somalia, which was utter chaos when I was there. It was the same year as the Black Hawk Down incident. The AP reporter who had been in Somalia, Tina Susman, was kidnapped, and three weeks after my departure from Somalia, the photographer who replaced me was killed. When I came back, I assessed what I wanted to do. I felt that it was so close to having been me. And I chose to stay closer to home, which included shooting more news and sports.


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