Kathy Willens specialized in sports photography. After 45 years of making images of the Olympics, Super Bowls and baseball she is retiring from The Associated Press.

Lab tech

Kathy Willens began her long-running career in photography covering sports as a freelancer for suburban newspapers in Detroit. She moved to Miami working in the darkroom at the Miami News. She went full-time as a photographer after making several front-page photos and features she created on her own.

On Photography: Kathy Willens, 1949-present
Kathy Willens at the Belmont Stakes in 2009

Associated Press photographer

By 1976, Willens had joined The Associated Press in Miami. She was one of the first women to become a staff photographer. She moved to the AP’s headquarters in New York in 1993.

The Olympics

Her passion for photographing sports led her to cover the Olympics in Los Angeles, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Beijing and Nagano.


Kathy Willens has covered them all. She has photographed the World Series several times. She has shot the NBA playoffs and the finals. She has made images of the NCAA Final Four, not to mention being a photographer at 11 Super Bowls.

Breaking new ground

During the 1990s, Kathy Willens not only photographed for AP, she also reported. Her eight months covering mothers in prison resulted in groundbreaking documentary work.

Giving back

Willens became an adjunct professor in the journalism department of New York University. She taught undergraduates the ins and outs of photojournalism from 2001 through 2019.

Awards and publications

Kathy Willens is a three-time award recipient of the Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of New York. She has won the Baseball Hall of Fame photo competition, twice. She has also won the Pro-Football Hall of Fame photography contest. The New York Press Photographers annual contest has seen her win it 10 times. The Associated Press Managing Editors have presented her an award for Reportorial Excellence.

The list of where her work has appeared is as impressive as the awards her work has earned. From the cover of “New York Yankees 365, inclusion in 150 Years of Associated Press Photography,” to “Assignment: Miami” where her photographs of Haitian refugees appeared in an exhibition curated by the Historical Museum of South Florida. Other books with her work include “Brooklyn: A State of Mind, Baseball’s Greatest Shots” and “Heroes of 9/11.”

On Photography: Kathy Willens, 1949-present
Yankees’ Aaron Boone presents an autographed picture to Kathy Willens Monday, June 28, 2021, in New York, of her picture of New York Yankees pitcher David Cone after Cone threw a perfect game. (Charles Wenzelberg: New York Post via AP)

Kathy Willens lives in Brooklyn where she is a bird watcher in surrounding parks with her binoculars replacing her cameras.

Sources: The Associated Press, AP Photographs by Kathy Willens except as noted.

Opening photographs

Clockwise from top left:

  • Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., riding Creator, celebrates after winning the 148th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 11, 2016, in Elmont, N.Y.
  • Maria Sharapova, of Russia, serves against Caroline Wozniacki, of Denmark, during the fourth round of the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, in New York.
  • New York Yankees pitcher David Cone is lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates by catcher Joe Girardi, left, as manager Joe Torre joins in the celebration after Cone threw a perfect game against the Montreal Expos during “Yogi Berra Day” at New York’s Yankee Stadium, July 18, 1999.
  • A Border Patrol officer clubs a Haitian refugee who broke through gates of Krome Detention Center, Miami,1981.
  • Two men help a mourner at the funeral for Haitian drowning victims, Fort Lauderdale, FL,1982.
  • Jane Fonda (44) leads Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, center, not wearing cap, and baseball players and camp participants in stretching exercise at the team’s Dodgertown training facility in Vero Beach, FL, Nov. 13, 1986.
  • People walk past ruins in the Culmer section of Miami May 19, 1980 after rioting over the acquittal of four police officers charged with the 1979 beating death of Arthur McDuffie, a black motorcyclist.
  • Somalis watch as Pakistani soldiers from the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Somalia sweep through their neighborhood on Wednesday, June 9, 1993 in Mogadishu, in search of snipers responsible for the ambush of U.N. soldiers. U.N. forces conducted weapons sweeps and moved U.N. staffers to safer quarters amid reports of an impending reprisal attack against warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who allegedly orchestrated an ambush that killed 23 Pakistanis.
  • Bruce Springsteen, belts out the title tune from his hit album Born in the USA, during a concert at the Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami, on Sept. 9, 1985.
  • A man walks by a sign in “Little Haiti” Miami, 1981.