Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Chapter Three

HOME MISSION BOARD, 1966 TO 1980

            When Walker Knight went to the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, in 1959 he was handed photo story packages done by Don Rutledge.  He published some of those photo stories.  Walker Knight became acquainted with Don Rutledge.  When Don traveled to Atlanta for coverages or when passing through town, Don stopped by and visited Walker Knight.  At the time they had Ralph Rogers as a photogra­pher.  Mr. Rogers’ direction was portrait and commercial.  When Mr. Rogers’ left they were without a photogra­pher.  It was the hope of Walker Knight and Jay Durham that they could secure Don Rutledge to fill the position.[17]  Jay Dur­ham was the Director of Media Services for the Home Mission Board at the time.
Figure 14 Baily King in front of his home in Quinten, Mississippi.
            Don did not drift into missions work.  Don Rutledge’s turning from a secular career to express his artistry as a Christian was a conscious decision on Don’s part.[18]  This was not the only avenue open for him.  The econo­my did not force this decision.  Actually in the three months before Don went to work for the Home Mission Board, Don made more money than he did in the next two years at the Home Mission Board, even when his salary and travel bud­get were includ­ed.[19]  All this is to say that Don’s acceptance of the invitation to come to the Home Mission Board was the fulfilling of his call to the minis­try.
       Walker Knight recommended Don to Jay Durham and L. O. Griffith, the Director of Communica­tions, at the Home Mis­sion Board. They replied that Don wouldn’t come to the HMB for our salary. Knight replied, “Let’s let Don make that decision.” “Okay, they said but will you call him to see if he is interested.” Walker called Don, and he was interested, then Jay made the call and he was hired by the Audio Visual Department.  Don agreed to come on a trial basis for a year.  Right from the start there were problems.  These prob­lems all revolved around changes.  Most of the changes were from the old technol­ogy to some­thing better.  The Home Mission Board had been using 4 x 5 cameras, and Don was accustomed to using 35mm cameras.  Earlier Don had an experience with LIFE magazine over this issue.  He had been assigned through Black Star to photo­graph a story at Georgetown College in Kentucky.  The story was about how the actors were made up to look like stained glass.  Don thought this would make a good story and had contacted Black Star who then contacted LIFE.
Figure 15 “I got what I knew from watchin’ and listnin’ and thankin’ for myself.” [Home Missions, December 1979, 2.]
            Everything was going fine until checking into the hotel the night before doing the coverage.  Don called the theater department to confirm a story he was doing.  The director informed him that another LIFE photographer, Don Cravens, was there to photograph the same story for LIFE.  It was not uncommon for this to happen; since LIFE was so large some departments would cover the same story.  Don Rutledge contacted Black Star, and after talking with
Figure 16 The difference from Bailey King and one of his childhood neighbors is that his neighbor only had to buy a guitar and Bailey had to buy land.  That was the differ­ence between him and Johnny Cash. [interview with Don Rutledge, 1985]
them, the decision was made to go ahead and shoot the story and then LIFE would decide on which coverage to use.  Don let Don Cravens shoot the story first.  Don Cravens shot the story on a 4 x 5 camera and took until 4 am in the morning with the actors to shoot.  Don Cravens had to set up lights due to the nature of the camera.  Don shot the following night on 35mm and was done by 12 midnight.   Don was using 35mm cameras which allowed him to use available light and record the natural setting easily.  LIFE used Don Rutledge’s pictures in their national and international editions of the magazine.  The pictures were used all over the world by many differ­ent magazines.  Don Cravens’ pictures were never used.  It could be that the time involved in shooting a 4 x 5 does not do well with photo­graphing people in everyday life situa­tions.[20]  The 35mm allows for a more candid look to photo­graphs since it does not require as much light for exposure or a bulky tripod.
Figure 17 Most of Bailey’s neighbors are all poor and black.  He was one of the few white men in the area.  Bailey also saw himself as equal to his neighbors.  They all had a great deal in common—even though their skin was different.

         L. O. Griffith, the Director of Communica­tions, at the Home Mis­sion Board, was a photog­rapher himself and could not understand why Don could not make the transi­tion from those “ama­teur 35mm cameras” to 4 x 5 cameras.  He liked Don’s work, but had a real prob­lem with understanding Don’s refusal to shoot with 4 x 5 cam­eras.  The issue of using 35mm versus 4 x 5 had to go all the way to the top of the Home Mission Board to be solved.  Dr. Arthur Rutledge, no relationship to Don, but the Executive Di­rector, had to decide.  Dr. Rutledge stood behind Don, Walker Knight and Jay Dur­ham.  Many other issues just like the camera issue would be repeated at the Home Mission Board.[21]

Figure 18 Luvenia, Bailey’s wife keeps an eye on the children.

        Broadman had a contract with the Home Mission Board regarding film strips.  Broadman would produce the film­strips and the Home Mis­sion Board would supply the material.  They came to the Home Mission Board for a major meeting to set things straight.  In a large de­partment meeting Don was told how to set his camera for proper expo­sure and what filters to use in differ­ent lighting situa­tions.  Shortly after this meeting the Broadman group complied with the de­mands of the Home Mis­sion Board.  They were to listen to Don and the photo department and not the other way around.  This did not work.  The Home Mission Board ended up produc­ing the programs by themselves.

Figure 19 This is George, a bowlegged Chihuahua, and Bailey’s companion and friend.  He keeps Bailey company since the doctor said Bailey would not work again.

           While Don was considering coming to work at the Home Mission Board, Walker Knight hired an associate editor: Dallas Lee.  Dallas Lee and Don Rutledge teamed up as a writer and photogra­pher team.  The idea of two specialists, one being the photographer and the other the writer, was very new for Southern Baptists.  They revolutionized the way of communication for the Home Mission Board.  Walker Knight commented that he “credited Don Rutledge’s photogra­phy as changing the whole nature of photography in the Southern Baptist Conven­tion.  We never had a standard before, and Don provid­ed that standard.”[22]  Don taught and befriended many photogra­phers throughout the conven­tion.  Many of these have gone on to work for national magazines like National Geo­graphic.  Ken Touchton, Steve Wall, Jim Wright and others went on to major careers in photojournalism after meeting Don.

          Jim Wright was a col­lege student who worked as the only lab technician for the Home Mission Board in the very beginning of Don Rutledge’s time at the Home Mission Board.  Jim knew very little about print­ing.  Don had con­tacted the lab Modern Age that Black Star was using in New York.  He had Modern Age print some negatives for Jim Wright to use as guides.   Jim Wright put
Figure 20 Lacking a formal education did not stop Bailey King from living, it just held him back.

them on the dark room walls as guides.  Jim printed the negatives until he could match the quality of the prints made by Modern Age.  Every good photogra­pher needs an equally good lab techni­cian.  The lab techni­cian is just as creative as the photographer.  Often negatives are difficult to print since they were shot under existing light.  Existing light gives character and mood to the photo­graph, but often it needs a good lab techni­cian to devel­op within the print the quali­ties that en­hance the commu­ni­cation process and play down the distracting ele­ments.  This requires the print­er to understand what the pho­tog­ra­pher was think­ing and to bring out those elements to enhance the mes­sage and to play down the other elements so that the print grabs the viewer and gets their atten­tion.[23]   Jim Wright helped estab­lish qual­ity control in the printing process that is still used today at the Home Mis­sion Board.

Figure 21 All those years of back breaking hard work caught up with Bailey King.  He had a stroke and has been unable to work.
         Dallas Lee was excited by the stories that Don and he were working on together.  He would walk in early and see all that was going on and would assume that Don saw what he saw, and was busy shooting.  He would find out later that Don often would go into a situation and not pick up his
Figure 22 The King children enjoy the water to cool off during those hot days.
cameras until he had been ab­sorbed by the place.  Don would wait long enough to under­stand what wasgoing on rather than im­mediately beginning to shoot.[24]  Don has an abil­i­ty with the cam­era to see situations.  There is al­ways that special mo­ment from every situa­tion that Don would capture.  Henry Cartie-Bresson called this the “decisive moment.”  Dal­las Lee said that Don taught him to have pa­tience and to ab­sorb infor­mation before jumping into the story.  This was the “round­ing out” of a jour­nalist: al­lowing the story to tell itself rather than his getting in the way with the journalist’s own per­cep­tion of the sto­ry.[25]   Don’s ability with peo­ple and his love of people is a driv­ing force of Don’s work.[26]
Figure 23

“Skilled hunters don’t crash through the woods with guns blazing or over­load them­selves with unnec­essary gear.  On the con­trary; they move quietly and careful­ly so as not to attract attention or fright­en off the game.  They blend with the envi­ron­ment.”[27]  Don’s abil­i­ty to blend into the wood­work is best shown in the cov­erage of Bailey King.  Looking at the pic­tures moves one from where they are to the sub­ject.  This immedi­a­cy brings with it an interaction be­tween the reader and the sub­ject that breaks down barriers of time and space.

Figure 24 Luvenia and Bailey King enjoy moments like these that keep them going and keep them close.
            “Being poor ain’t so bad.  It’s just inconve­nient,” said Ba­iley King.[28]  Bailey King was photo­graphed by Don for some three weeks.  Don went to Quin­ten, Missis­sippi, to show how a poor family lived in this coun­try.  Don bathed in the pond like the rest of the family and ate just like they ate.  He con­tribut­ed just enough to cover his cost without changing the level of the family’s income while he was there.  Later he gave them money to help the family.  Due to this story photographed by Don and written Phyllis Thomp­son, the King’s were pro­vided a brick home by the read­er­ship of the maga­zine.[29]  Just before going to Missis­sippi to do the cover­age on the King family, Don had been reading Hans Kung book On Being a Christian.  After listen­ing to Bailey King, Don heard many of the deep theolog­i­cal con­cepts out of Bailey King’s mouth that he had been reading earli­er by Hans Kung.  Con­sidering that Bailey King couldn’t read or write, Don realized that God speaks to all people in spe­cial ways.  God seemed to be preparing Don for this sto­ry.  With this prepara­tion, Don not only lis­tened to Bailey as a good journalist, but for the common sense that was gained from every­day life with Bailey King.
Figure 25
            Mr. King lives in a pri­marily black neighbor­hood.  Everyone around him lives in similar clap­board-styled homes.  Poverty is the lifestyle, but that does not make King less of a man.  Don sees to it in his photo­graphs that people will see into the man.  Don uses the camera to move the view­er to a new level.  People who sing in church all hear the music; some get a little deeper and let the words speak to them, but those who lead the music must be func­tion­ing on a spiritual level to move the people beyond the mu­sic.[30]  Don, like all minis­ters, must go ahead of the people and be able to bring the audience to the experi­ence.  Don moved Southern Baptists with this coverage.  As a communicator he had mastered the skills to show Bailey King to Southern Bap­tists.  He did not allow himself to get in the way of the communi­cation.
Figure 26 “On special occasions, people pay $100 for a plate of food, when I’m happy to get a sweet potato.  The pore man spends most ‘o his life half­way livin’.” [Home Mission, December 1979, 14]
            “The Bi­ble says man, not white man, not black man, not Chinaman.  Jus’ man.  So why do some of us thank we are better than others?” —— Bailey King[31]  King had a good under­standing of such a complex idea.  Theologians study for years to come up with the same understandings of the Bible that King put into words.  The gospel is for everyone and not just for the elite.  What better way to commu­nicate the need for us to go and help the poor than for a poor man to humble us all.
            “I been workin’ since I’s five, and I ain’t got no more now’n I had then.  It is hard for me to walk.  But you can’t give up jus’ ’cause you hurt a little bit.  If you fall on your knees and break down ’round here, you ain’t gonna get up no more.” –Bailey King.[32]
As one looks at Don’s photographs you notice that often the pic­tures have two or three pic­tures in one pic­ture.  This approach of Don’s is what he excels in more than any other dominant style of photograph he does.  Usually when Don uses this composition technique, there is a primary subject in the photo­graph.  Then the sec­ondary element adds a touch of in­formation about the environ­ment.  It also adds that qual­ity called the “slice of life.”  By includ­ing these extra elements the photo­graph does not look trite or so much composed as just mak­ing you feel as if you were there yourself.  The photo­graph has much infor­mation and keeps giv­ing in­formation everytime one looks at the photo­graph.
Figure 27

Many photographers like to keep things simple.  They may use a real tight shot to show the tear in the child’s eye.  Don does this also, but his ability to cap­ture the big picture sets him apart from most of his colleagues in the profes­sion.

Figure 28 “People don’ wanta fool with nothin’.  But you gotta fool with thangs.  People is worth foolin’ with.  All o’ them is.  I guess not carin’ is ’bout as bad a thang as is.” [Home Missions, December 1979, 18.]
           To tell someone’s story through pictures one must come to a deep under­standing of the peo­ple he is photo­graph­ing.  He needs to understand the subject matter well enough to simplify the message so it does not get lost in the communi­cation process.  By living for three weeks with the King family, Don was able to get to know the people.  Many other pho­tog­ra­phers have tried to do what Don had done, and usu­ally they have come back too soon with the story.  Often the story others come back with is their own percep­tion of the situation.  Many pho­togra­phers can not get their egos out of the way to listen to the peo­ple.
Figure 29 An Appalachian migrant family in Ohio during 1968.
            While egos are being mentioned, it is impor­tant to note that most people who are pho­tojour­nalist many have rather large egos.  With­out some ego in this busi­ness of pho­tojour­nalism many would not survive.  The ego gives the drive neces­sary in a field so competi­tive.  Photojournalist are called many names by media personel.  Christlike is far from the description given to the media in general.  The differ­ence with Don is that his ego does not show like most jour­nal­ists.[33]  What drives Don is not the ego but the love of God.  Don listens to Christ in his walk and in this way is very different from the secular photo­jour­nal­ist.  “When a bunch of pho­tog­ra­phers, including some big names like Eugene Smith, would get togeth­er, Don was the one who would go for coffee for every­one——he’s just that kind of a guy,” said Knolan Benfield.[34]  Knolan Benfield was the Di­rec­tor of Photo­graphic Ser­vices for many years at the Home Mission Board and worked very directly with Don.  Don was his manager.  Knolan Benfield is this writer’s uncle and the one who introduced Don Rutledge to him.
Figure 30 Angela Fung works in the day care program at Utopia Parkway Baptist Chapel in New York City.
            “The most important thing about Don is that he al­most single-handed­ly raised the level of photojournalism within the convention, and also creat­ed a stan­dard of excel­lence by which ev­ery­body else who worked around him had to be measured or measured themselves.  These two things are enor­mous con­tribu­tions to South­ern Baptist communications efforts.  Just his pres­ence de­mands such a high standard of production from edi­tors, writers, as well as other photogra­phers.  Don does all this with a great deal of humil­ity.  This is also reflect­ed in his willingness to help young photogra­phers.  This all stems from Don’s enormous sense of securi­ty within himself.  He is sure of who he is and what he can do.  He knows what his abilities are.  This gives him a solid foundation for helping other people without any threat to his own career or his own fame or notoriety.”[35]
            Don has an ability to help one grow in the field of commu­nica­tion.  His gift is in pointing out the weak­nesses in a shoot as well as the strengths.[36]  After the writ­er had been taking his work to be critiqued by Don for several years, the writer no­ticed that Don would look for posi­tive things on which to com­ment and would pass over much of the work.  Slowly, as the writer started to focus in on the positives, the more Don would com­ment.  Finally when the writer became bold and asked Don what was wrong with some of the other photographs, Don spoke more openly.  Don is careful not to criticize.  He looks for the positives in the work of others.
            Knolan Benfield re­mem­bers many times when he thought that Don should just tell the per­son to try another field.  Don would ask oth­ers look at the work and let them state the negatives.  On one occa­sion a photographer came to see Don and, after talking with the man, introduced him to the writer.  After looking at the portfo­lio, the writer made a few sug­gestions for improvement.  Several months later the same man returned with the same portfolio.  No changes had been made.  It was as if the man never listened to Don or the writer.  Don comment­ed later that he could not believe one could have the nerve to show the same portfolio to him twice and not correct the prob­lems.
            Don’s graciousness was needed to talk to the Southern Bap­tists who were in leadership at the Home Mission Board and other agencies.  He had a way of gradually getting others to join his team.  He did not put down the work they were doing, but by showing what he was doing, he led others to join in and be a part of the process.
Figure 31 Boys at a Baptist community center in Kentucky in 1970.

Dallas Lee, naive and still young in his profession, thought that he could just go and photograph and write with the best of them.  After meeting Don, he was hum­bled.[37]  Don has only good things to say about many of his colleagues at the Home Mission Board.  His admiration for the direction that Dr. Arthur Rutledge had taken in home missions not only made Don proud to be Southern Baptist but inspired him to do some of his best work ever up to that point.

            Don is not able to do alone all that it takes to put out the work of his caliber.  It takes the team approach to make it happen.  Don believed in the photo lab to do its best in printing his work to make it stand out and make people stop and look.  Don always had professional labs print his work.  While with Black Star He tried to develop a style of his own.  One day he walked into the lab that he used and a lab technician was out front.  He asked Don if he was Don Rutledge.  The man wanted to talk to Don.  He had been printing Don’s work for many years and admired it.  Don did not want the man to know that he was not aware of his style.  So he asked the man what he liked about his style.  The man said he liked the way he treated people with dignity.  He noticed that Don was a very religious man and had a deep apprecia­tion for social issues.  This man told Don so much about himself, that at that moment Don realized that what he had been working so hard to do was succeed­ing.  He also realized how much one knows about him by just looking at the photo­graphs.
            The main theme in all of Don’s work is LOVE.
            If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am noth­ing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surren­der my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
            Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
            Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
            And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.[38]
            While working with Black Star Don was able to communicate this message through his photographs and did not necessarily need to work at the Home Mission Board to accom­plish this task.  Today many Christian photojournalists work in secular positions all over the country communicating the Christian message through their pictures.  One group that the writer and many others are a member of is Christians in Photojournalism.
            Why did Don leave Black Star and come to the Home Mission Board, take a cut in pay and status to work with people who frequently produced inferior quality products?  This question points very directly to the pioneering spirit that Don has about him and his work.  Photojournalism is a relatively new profession.  LIFE did not transpire until 1936, and this is the magazine that developed the picture story and basically fashioned the field of photojournalism.  Staying with the major magazines would have proven very lucrative for Don.
            Walker Knight knew that photojournalism was the direction needed.  However, few Christian photojournalists existed who could have made the dreams of Walker Knight and others become a reality for Southern Bap­tists.  Don Rutledge was able to do this.  His studies at a very con­servative Bible college and his upbringing in the Baptist life coupled with his skills as a photojournalist made him a prime candidate to deal with many of the issues that he was to take on while working for the South­ern Baptists.
            Many of the leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention have one thing in common.  They were pastors at one time or another.  This common con­nec­tion helped Don in ways that other photojournalists after him have not had.  This ability to understand those with whom he was working when dealing with difficult issues helped him commu­nicate effectively.  While in college studying psychology, Don learned a valuable insight into the human nature from one of his professors.  When it comes to logic and emo­tion on any given issue, emotion usually wins out in the argu­ment.[39]  Walker Knight re­al­ized that by writing alone he was preaching to people, but with the photographs people saw for themselves the con­dition of people and how they were living.  The photograph argued through emotion.  Don let his work speak for itself and used very few words in meetings to make his points.  If people liked Don’s work and respected his opinion and asked for the opinion, then Don spoke.  On a few rare occasions Don gave his opinion when not asked.
            After coming to the Home Mission Board in 1966, Don made a major impact upon the publication work being done by the agency.  The coverages done by Don and the writers that he worked with had a major effect on Southern Baptists.  People were writing to complain and to complement the magazine.  Due to Don’s abilities, the Home Mission Board was making a difference in Southern Baptists.  Walker Knight had moved in the direction that he saw as his calling and Don Rutledge visually helped to make it possi­ble.[40]

    [17] Mr. Walker L. Knight, interview by author, Tape recording, Atlanta, Georgia, 22 November 1992.
    [18] Ibid.
    [19] Don Rutledge, Interview by author, Richmond, Virginia, 5 November 1985.
    [20] Ibid.
    [21] Don Rutledge, Interview by author, 15 January 1993.
    [22] Interview with Knight.
    [23] Interview with Rutledge.
    [24] Mr. Dallas Lee, interview by author, Tape recording, Atlanta, Georgia, 7 January 1993.
    [25] Ibid.
    [26] Interview with Knight.
    [27] Dave LaBelle, The Great Picture Hunt, (Bowling Green: Kentucky, Western Kentucky University, 1991), 15.
    [28] Phyllis F. Thompson, “Somebody, A Poor Man,” Home Missions, December 1979, cover.
    [29] Rutledge.
    [30] Dr. Leafblad, Fall 92 lectures in Introduction to Church Music.
    [31] Thompson, 6.
    [32] Ibid. 8.
    [33] Interview with Lee.
    [34] Knolan Benfield, Interview by author, 30 May 1992.
    [35] Everett Hullum, interviewed by author, Tape recording, Atlanta, Georgia, 5 January 1993.
    [36] Ibid.
    [37] Interview with Lee.
    [38] 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 New International Version.
    [39] Interview with Rutledge.
    [40] Interview with Knight.