Cool Cleveland People: Amy Sancetta

AP Photojournalist and Pulitzer Prize Winner

From the red carpet at the Academy Awards to Barbaro winning the Kentucky Derby, from the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Twin Towers to the 1992 Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden when Bill Clinton won the Presidential nomination, Amy Sancetta was there. With camera in hand, eye at the lens, walking around these subjects looking at different angles, she was capturing the moment.

Her photographs grab your attention, the particular image tells a story. A Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist, she has worked full time for the Associated Press (AP) for 28 years. Looking at this trim, middle aged woman about 5’6” in height, it is hard to believe she has lugged 40 pounds of camera equipment with her on assignments. “It goes with the job,” shrugs Sancetta, “but the best part is I get paid to see.”

Growing up in Moreland Hills, her brother, an Eagle Scout, let her experiment with his old 35 mm Konica camera when he wasn’t using it to earn merit badges. Working on the Orange High School yearbook staff, she learned more about photography through trial and error. The sports editor of the Chagrin Valley Times asked if any students wanted to take pictures of school sports events in the neighboring Chagrin Valley communities. Sancetta jumped at the opportunity. “At that time, it was good money, $15 a picture for the ones used in the newspaper. With that, I could pay for my gas and buy new records to listen to,” she said. Even though she was a history major and English minor at Ohio State University, she kept taking pictures. At OSU, a big sports campus, she had many opportunities to take pictures of team players at the games.

Starting out as a sports photographer, she learned many skills. From there, she moved on to being a feature photographer at the Associated Press where they shoot all subject matter and news events. “The Associated Press has several hundred staff photographers around the world,” she explained. “They are proportionally assigned. For example, Ohio has four staff photographers while Nevada has one.” The Associated Press, a member-based news organization, started in the mid 1800s as a cooperative. Newspapers pay a fee to the AP based on their circulation and services needed (words, pictures, video, radio, TV, broadcasts, and clips). “The AP covers the world. It is the voice of record,” she said.

“Mentors were influential for me starting out in my career,” said Sancetta, “so I strongly believe in their value.” While in high school, she took the initiative to contact Madeline Drexler, one of the first women AP photographers, to find out more about the profession. While in college in Columbus, she worked with AP photojournalist Harry Cabluck, and Brian Horton, both “great teachers.” After graduation, she spent two years working at the Columbus Dispatch. In 1983, the AP hired her for a staff position at their Philadelphia bureau where she worked for 10 years.

“While covering the 1992 Democratic Convention in New York City, on the crowded Madison Square Garden floor with barely any room to move, I saw Bill Clinton standing with his 12-year-old daughter, Chelsea, to the side of the stage. There were many people in front of me, but I was poised and ready with the camera,” she explained setting the stage. “In one second, the people parted like the Red Sea, I saw Clinton with his head held high to the side proudly smiling as his name was announced as the presidential Democratic candidate. Chelsea with long curly hair was close to his side holding his hand, shyly smiling and looking down. This picture, one of ten different pictures portraying the presidential campaign, the AP submitted them as a package that year winning a Pulitzer Prize. I have covered every president since Ronald Reagan,” she added.

Her advice for budding photojournalists? “Don’t focus just on one thing when taking pictures,” she advised. “I don’t always know I will make a picture, but I always believe something neat could happen and I try to be prepared enough to capture that moment.” Sometimes the picture is behind you, be sure to consider other angles. Plan ahead; know the event and where the action will move. “I have to take the standard shots, but always look for something different along the way. When covering the President’s Cup Golf Tournament, I shot pictures of star golfers teeing off, chipping to the green, and putting. But I also took a picture of the wives of the International Team players sitting together on large 4-wheel golf cart, all looking disappointed – the American player just sank his birdie putt to win the point.”

Sancetta now lives in the same Moreland Hills home where she grew up. When she is not glued behind a camera lens, she enjoys teaching and mentoring, and being active in animal rescue organizations. Always with an active eye, she continues to take pictures, even in her own neighborhood. For example, she recently captured a traditionally dressed, teenage Amish girl rollerblading down a small hill on a nearby country road – a special picture to see.

From Cool Cleveland contributor Susan Schaul, who says the act of writing is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The challenge lies in getting the pieces to fit together and make sense.

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2 Responses to “Cool Cleveland People: Amy Sancetta”

  1. What an outstanding story! I would love to hear more about Amy Sansetta. It’s great to have her back home in Cleveland!

  2. Mark Baker

    Very nice piece on Amy…she is also one of the world’s “nicest” people..and still as competitive as ever with colleagues and opponents..a true profesional.Crusty

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