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Franklin McMahon

The Artist as a Reporter

Fig. 1 Franklin McMahon, Kennedy-Nixon Debates, 1960 Chicago, USA

It seems to me that the artist can explore these more difficult subjects, can do something with them, can make them more visually interesting than what we’ve being seen in the magazines.
In other words, what an artist does, who goes out in anything like this, he heightens the reality, makes the reality sharper than it can be experienced in another way.

Fig. 2 Franklin McMahon, Emmett Till Trial, 1955 Chicago History Museum, USA

He watches around the subject, takes with him the cube’s idea of looking at the subject from all sides and showing many facets of it in the same picture. He carries with him the colour of the faus, he can heighten the colour. He carries with him the action painter’s concept that the motion of the idea or the action comes from the brain, down the arm, up to the end of the brush to the canvas.

Fig. 3 Franklin McMahon, Church leaders in Rome, 1962 Private collection, USA
Source: private collection

This is the way an artist works, this is the excitement of art, that you sit there, that you stand there and you make a picture. It happens just that way. More important perhaps than this action, it’s the interaction of the artist with a meaningful subject.

Fig. 4 Franklin McMahon, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1997 Hiroshima, Japan

Franklin McMahon (1921-2012) was an American artist and reportage master working under commissions for magazines like Life, Look, Fortune among many others, or in a proactive way searching for reportage themes. “With sketch pads in hand, Mr. McMahon covered momentous events in the civil rights struggle, spacecraft launchings, national political conventions and the Vatican, turning out line drawings for major magazines and newspapers. Many were later colored by watercolor or acrylic paints, and most rendered scenes in a heightened, energetic style. His goal, he said, was to step beyond what he considered the limitations of photography to “see around corners.”
Photographers capture a moment, he said, but he could combine moments, often hours apart, into a single picture and thereby convey, he believed, a larger truth. He might, for example, pluck images from a political convention — a balloon drop, a speaker, a network camera — that never appeared together, and put them in the same frame.” (New New York Times, 2012)

Additional info:

Franklin McMahon by Margot McMahon

McMahon Gallery

Chicago Film Archives

Society of Illustrators


Osterholtz, D., McMahon, I., McMahon, F. (2021). The World is Your Studio. Atlanta, USA: StudioPress

McMahon, M. (2021). Mac & Irene: A WWII Saga. Detroit: Aquarius Press

Meglin, N. (1969). On-The-Spot Drawing. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications

Murphy, F. X. (1980). This Church, These Times. Chicago: Association Press Follett Company/Chicago