INTERVIEW: Franklin McMahon
Updated: Feb 24
This interview between Hall of Fame reportage illustrator Franklin McMahon and illustrator and author Lisa L. Cyr was originally conducted in 2007 for an article on reportage Illustration called Visual Journalism for the Communication Arts Illustration Annual. You can read the full article online here: https://www.commarts.com/columns/visual-journalism.
Throughout the engaging conversation, the reportage illustrator discussed his start as an artist, working on location and drawing as an active observer to some of the most significant social, cultural and political world events in the history of our time.
McMahon did his first reportage drawings as a prisoner in a WWII POW camp in Germany. He later went on to work professionally as an illustrator in 1955 when he was asked to cover the historically significant Emmett Till trial for Life magazine. Several ink drawings were created and featured as a double-page spread of the famous court case. At the time, the assignment was significant to a nation that was beginning to change in many ways. It was also important to the artist, as it marked the beginning of the reportage-style work he became known for. The assignment fueled his desire to create a lifetime of work that documents and sheds light on the truth behind the news of the day. Honored by the Minority Economic Resources Corporation (MERC) for his body of work pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement, McMahon has been at the forefront of change.
“In the heart of the action, McMahon drew on the spot, capturing just the right moments that conveyed the entire story on paper.”
Over his career, the reportage illustrator has documented every political convention and campaign. At CBS in Chicago, McMahon captured the 1960 Kennedy Nixon debate. His work was published by Look magazine. In addition, the artist-reporter’s vast body of work has crossed over from print to film with the creation of several political documentaries. McMahon’s award-winning projects feature approximately 200 to 400 drawings and have been showcased on both PBS and CBS. From the Civil Rights Movement, formation of the European Council and Vatican II to the Watergate hearings, NASA space race and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, McMahon reported on historical events as they were happening.
When I wrote an article entitled Reinvention: Challenges Create New Opportunities for Illustrators for the Communication Arts Illustration Annual (2000), I learned about the McMahon family and their incredible sense of entrepreneurialism initiated by their father Franklin. The patriarch’s incredible body of work, worldwide experience and “build it and they will come” attitude inspire us all to get out of our studios to become more actively involved with our subjects, creating work that is genuine, honest and truly reflective of our time.
Franklin McMahon past away in 2012 at 90 years of age. According to his son Mark McMahon, he worked on location up to the end of his life. What an incredible role model he was and I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to spend time with such a legend in the illustration business. I want to thank Mark for introducing me to his dad and my former teacher, friend, mentor and boss, the late Murray Tinkelman, for introducing me to the history of illustration and the significant work that reportage artists have made and continue to make on the footprint of history.
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