AP photographer’s early experiences in Washington helped prepare her to cover wartime diplomacy

WASHINGTON — Jacquelyn Martin is a photojournalist at The Associated Press in Washington. She covers politics in the White House and Congress and has traveled the world as a polar photographer for every secretary of state since Hillary Clinton. She is also known for her self-directed business feature packages for which she photographs, writes and shoots video. She was the last press photographer to photograph Nelson Mandela before he died.


This article is part of a series celebrating Associated Press journalists during Women’s History Month. An earlier episode featured one of our photographers who worked in Ghana and her work focused on the lives of women in her country.


Based in Washington for the AP, I cover many high-stakes political issues. I’m used to working in scrums, walking the fine line between being assertive while using finesse to ensure access. Too aggressive and no one will want to work with you. Too soft and you’ll get run over. When I started in 2006, female photojournalists vastly outnumbered men in Washington. While trailblazing colleagues like AP’s Susan Walsh were pushing boundaries long before I arrived, and more and more women have joined us in the years since, there were many years when I was the only female face in the photo booths. It taught me a lot about walking that line, which was helpful last October.

On October 11, 2023, I boarded a U.S. Air Force plane to fly with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on his last-minute trip to Israel and the Middle East in an effort to prevent all-out war from unfolding spreads throughout the region. after Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7. I was appointed photo pooler and tasked with providing photographs of this frantic diplomatic effort to the US news media and global news outlets.

With one day’s notice and no idea of ​​how long we would be gone, I packed light and prepared whatever subtitles I could, knowing that everything could change in an instant. Although I have covered the State Department and traveled frequently as a photo pooler under various administrations, I knew the urgency of this story gave me a renewed sense of purpose.

The Middle East can be a tricky place to photograph under the best of circumstances. Access can be difficult, the press and officials can be intense and you have to be quite assertive. It is also less common to see female photojournalists there. Sometimes people not knowing what to think of you work to your advantage. Add to that volatile international politics, an impending war and sky-high tensions, and that made it even more challenging. The assignment took on a greater sense of urgency because I knew people’s lives would be affected by the meetings I covered. The adrenaline made it hard to sleep, but that was a good thing because it turned out we wouldn’t get much sleep. I knew that my colleagues in the region were in the field and in danger. Still, I had to do my best to document this one part of the larger story.

I immediately felt the chaos, and therefore an opportunity, to make more images behind the scenes than is normally possible. Being prepared and working through the chaos to your advantage can lead to more storytelling moments. These photo sprays are often highly orchestrated. This time there was so much up in the air that I was able to quickly calculate where to position myself, slip in, do my work and get away with more different scenes than usual. It helped that I had previously worked with the State Department team; in fact, I was with them as a pooler for a trip to the Middle East a few months earlier. You have to show that you can do the work, that you won’t get in the way. It helps to show them that if they work with you and trust your instincts, images of their man will travel around the world.

I must travel light when traveling to the State Department. I wear all the equipment on my body, even on the planes. There’s no time to pack and unpack a camera bag. Compact travel is useful when you have to squeeze through a wall of Qatari official photographers or rush into photo opportunities at the last minute because you had to sprint up the back of a very long motorcade.

I am not a photographer who captures war and conflict. I mainly cover politics. There was one night when we were held outside, in the middle of the Israeli Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, where the alarm went off. Rockets came in and the press pool had to take shelter underground. I felt the explosion of the Iron Dome. I had never experienced that before and it shocked me. As a mother, I admit to sending messages to my son to tell him I loved him, just in case. It seems a bit strange looking back because we were in a safe place and so many people in the region were suffering much worse at the same time. But it was scary and it really brought home the severity of what had happened and how the situation could escalate.