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Remembering Desmond Boylan Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

19 January 2019

Desmond Boylan, on assignment for the Associated Press in December, wasn't feeling well. He stopped at a nearby house to ask for a glass of water and sat down on the sofa. The 54-year-old photographer closed his eyes and left this world.

He began his career as a stringer for AP in Spain, where he had been raised. In 1992 he began working for Reuters in Madrid as a stringer before landing a staff position. That job took him all over the world covering Kuwait, Iraq, Albania, the Intifada in the Middle East, the Olympics, Formula One and other sporting events.

Two of the images Boylan created are among his finest.

In 2002 he was one of the first photographers set up remote cameras fired by cable on the ground along the streets where the bulls ran in Pamplona.

One image of a bull stomping toward the lens, its head nearly parallel to the street as it tried to keep its balance, was published widely. It was so dramatic that it prompted calls from all over the world concerned for the safety of the photographer.

For the other image, Boylan played director of photography more than photographer.

As his friend Santiago Lyon told the story in the N.Y. Times, Boylan was in South Africa to cover the inauguration of Nelson Mandela in 1994. As it happened, Cuban president Fidel Castro joined other leaders there for a group photo. Lyon tells what happened next:

Desmond spoke to Castro in Spanish, much to Castro's surprise and they struck up a conversation that ended with Desmond handing his camera to the Cuban leader and asking him to take a photograph of the photographers. Castro obliged and the picture of Castro holding Desmond's camera was widely published.

When Castro returned the camera to Boylan, he asked him if he'd ever visited Cuba. Boylan promised he would, spent his vacation there a few months later and met Gloria Gonzalez, whom he "swiftly married," as Lyon puts it.

She and their son Michael survive him.

"News photography is a way of life," he said. "It is showing what happens in the straightest, clearest and most honest way possible, for a global audience that will see and understand through those pictures."

Lyon, who is the director for editorial content at Adobe, concludes his piece on Boylan with this tribute:

His death was as jarring as it was unexpected. Desmond was widely liked, appreciated for his generosity and his willingness to go out of his way to mentor young photographers. At his memorial service in Havana on Jan. 1, many Cuban photographers remembered and remarked on this spirit. The outpouring of grief -- from photographers and photo editors around the globe -- was a fitting testament to a gentle man who traveled with his camera, mostly unnoticed, to better show how people live, fight and play the world over.

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