Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Conclusion

CONCLUSION

Don Rutledge (photo by: Ken Touchton)

            To a non-Christian, Don would have been considered crazy for taking the positions with Southern Baptist.  Going to the Home Mission Board was definitely a step down in pay and prestige for Don Rutledge.  Why would someone leave a super position to take a drastic cut in pay and work with people who generally did not understand photojournalism?  Why would Don repeat the cut in pay and prestige and leave the Home Mission Board to go the Foreign Mission Board?  The answers to these questions only come from one source and that source is God.

            Don turned down positions with Life magazine, Associated Press and many others.  The Associated Press job would allow Don to travel the country doing any feature story that he wanted to do.  The AP job also would require him to go with the President of the United States on any over seas coverages.  Don turned down what most would have not thought twice about taking as jobs.[54] 
Siberia—Working with outsiders means listening and being heard, according to Eduard Genrich, of Second Baptist Church in Novosibirsk. People here say they are encouraged and helped by outsiders, but taken advantage of by some. (photo by: Don Rutledge)

            Don did not follow the normal direction that most Americans seek.  He did not climb the ladder as most would.  In our culture we are trained to continue to go up vertically.  We move through our school years doing this and most continue to do the same in the corporate ladder climb.  However, Don learned to follow his Lord——Jesus.  Whenever Don decided, there was no brass ring to grab.  In hindsight Don’s life is a testimony to how the Lord takes care of his children. 

John Howard Griffin as a black man in New Orleans in 1956. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)
John Howard Griffin getting dressed in a hotel in 1956. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)
John Howard Griffin looking at movies playing. When going in as a black man he would have a separate entrance. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)
John Howard Griffin as a black man and polishing shoes for a white man. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)

            Don’s life has been a testimony to other photographers who are not Christian.  He is asked often to speak at conferences for the National Press Photographers, Atlanta Press Photogra­phers, The Southern Short Course and also speaks for numerous camera clubs around the country.

            This writer concludes that Don has exemplified better than most that following your Lord does not mean giving yourself to a lesser life.  Those that earlier criticized Don for leaving Black Star to work with Southern Baptist have called him over and over asking if there are any openings for them to serve.[55]
New York City, NY 1966:  Lady on roof top. (photo by: Don Rutledge)

            For those who want to follow in Don’s footsteps they need to be warned that the road that Don has paved, still has pot holes and other problems that will require one to still proceed with caution.  They must realize Don focused on relationships with all those around him.  They must build strong relationships. 

            While working with Don at the Foreign Mission Board this writer observed how the administrative assistants and those that worked in the file area of photography were often teasing Don.  After one trip, Don’s office was completely rolled with toilet paper.  Another time one of the girls in the office had everyone dress like Don.  Don always wore the same style shirts and this made it easy to tease him. 
            Another time Don came back to discover his desk stacked in mail.  Virginia Adams, administrative assistant in communications department, had made up labels with Don’s name and address.  Virginia asked everyone to bring in all their junk mail.  She then put the labels on all that mail.
Boy in mirror. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)

            One does not build this type of relationships by looking out for themselves alone.  Don was not around a great deal at the Foreign Mission Board, but he knew how to put all at ease around him.  He was well known for the stories that he told.  Don always had a story to tell and keep people laughing. 

Brazil

            Don ability with people is strongly related to his relationship with Christ.  No matter how good one is with the camera or with words, they must understand that Don’s success is due to his diligence and patience given to him by Jesus Christ.  You will never hear Don preaching or grabbing shirt collars to witness.  Due to Don’s life many have come to see the compassion that Christ has for the world.  Looking at Don’s photographs allows one to see the world in a Christian perspective.  One does not have to work with a Christian institution to do what Don does so well.  One only need a Lord that they call their master to understand how he does it all——his Lord enables him.

China



[54] Interview with Rutledge.
[55] Rutledge.

 
 

Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Chapter One

Figure 1 Harley Shields is a Southern Baptist Home Missionary whose work place is Selawik, Alaska. Don photographed him in 1978.
This writer has en­joyed seeing the world ap­proximately 137 coun­tries and all of the United States with­out ever leav­ing his own home.
Most of the travel­ing was done with the help of The Commission Magazineand Missions USA. Both of the maga­zines have won some of the highest awards in the country. The Commission Magazine has placed third in magazines in the “Pic­tures of The Year” contest sponsored by the Na­tional Press Photographers Association in 1989 and 1990. Missions USA has earned similar awards. These Southern Baptist magazines are in a league with National Geographic and Life Magazine for their photography and design.

The reason for their success can be tied greatly to Don Rutledge. For this reason this writer is doing his thesis on Don Rutledge for publication.

Don has worked for Black Star photo agency in New York for more than thirty years. During this time he has also worked for the Home Mission and the Foreign Mission Boards of the SBC. He has won more than 400 awards for his work. He has been published in many magazines and books around the globe. His work has taken him throughout all fifty states, all of Canada and to 135 coun­tries.

Today, Rutledge is mentor to many professional photographers and students. All of the photojournalists in the Southern Baptist Convention point to Don as being the reason they are where they are today. All of them hope one day to make the impact he has already made for Southern Baptists and the cause of missions.

Having worked with Don Rutledge for many years, this writer has devel­oped a great appreciation for him. He has come to understand that the common thread that binds all those in minis­try is working with people. Don works with people so well that he has made major changes in magazines by his soft encourag­ing voice. Wherev­er Don goes he makes many friends.
Figure 2 Every year Carl Holden, a home missionary, takes his young people tubing from his church, Central Baptist.
Don’s ability with people is a gift. Don puts people at ease with or without his camera. This is a talent envied by photo­jour­nalists the world over. Those in the field of Christian photojour­nalism understand where this gift came from. They under­stand how Don’s faith is lived out through his camera.

As one looks at Don’s photographs, one feels as if he is in the room with the people. Don becomes a part of the woodwork wherev­er he goes. He blends in so well that people are able to be them­selves. His subjects look as though Don were not present. They are not reacting to his presence but are free to be them­selves. Don has allowed God to be so much a part of his work, that when one speaks of how Don is a part of the woodwork, one can picture how the Holy Spirit works through him.

Figure 3 In 1967 Don Rutledge went inside the Artic Circle and captured this Eskimo child play­ing.

His reputation often precedes Don, now that people know of his integrity without ever meeting him. They can see a man who gives dignity to his sub­jects. Often many pho­togra­phers today will exploit their sub­jects. They pho­to­graph a handi­capped per­son and exag­gerate his handicap so that one never really sees the per­son. Don’s pho­tos call one to feel a part of the per­son. Don says the eyes are the windows to the soul. He re­veals the inner­most part of people in a brief instant that is frozen on film. The more one looks at the photo­graph, the more one sees. He packs so much information into a photo­graph that one can go back over and over it and see some­thing new every time. Don in­cludes small details in his photo­graphs like a good writer who pulls his reader into the situa­tion.

Don studied to be a psy­chologist and worked on his doctorate in the field. He also studied for the minis­try and was a pastor for a short period. He still is using his psychology in pho­to­graphing people, and his pictures continually reach audi­ences of over 1.5 million people week by week.

Don’s work has helped people see the work of mission­aries around the world. By doing this he has helped the mission board reach the world for Christ.

Growing up as a home missionary kid helped this writer realize the impor­tance of relationships in ministry. This writer felt the call to the ministry and went a traditional route of majoring in social work and then planning to go on to the semi­nary to become a pastor. While in college this writer discovered photog­raphy and the power of the camera as a communication tool. Knolan Benfield, Jr., was a photogra­pher who worked on Missions USAmagazine, and he intro­duced this writer to Don Rutledge. This writer was intrigued by the work that Don did on the maga­zine.

After talking with Don, this writer felt redi­rect­ed in his call to be a minister who used the camera as a central part of his ministry. Many who are Christian photojour­nalists have struggled with the call. In many ways, the Chris­tian photojour­nalist is a preacher. The photo­journalist’s illus­trations are not done with words in the pulpit but with photo­graphs on the printed page.

As one will see, Don’s work is powerful and his style can be seen in the work of most photojournalists who work for the Southern Baptists. They will tell you they hope someday to be like Don.

Don dreams of publications combining words and pictures effectively to communicate the concerns God has placed on his heart. This driving force in Don is the Holy Spirit convicting him of the message of missions. His photographs have one common theme: Love. They have moved people to become in­volved in missions. God has called them into missionary service after they looked at the mission field through the “eyes of Don.” Don’s work has helped to meet the needs of people the world over.

When considering the skills of Don Rutledge one can see that he could have become very wealthy from his photography if he had not worked with Southern Baptists. In his three months before coming to work with Southern Baptists, he made more than he would make in the next two years working with Southern Baptists. His decision to be a minister with a camera meant choosing the narrow road. Don chose to follow Jesus Christ. Due to his follow­ing Christ, his work as a Christian photojour­nalist has help spread the gospel around the world.

[1]Howard I. Finberg, The Best of Photojournalism 16: The Year in Pictures, (Philadelphia: Running Press Book Publishers, 1991), 232.

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