Stanley talks about Don Rutledge’s photos

photo by: Don Rutledge

In my last blog post I talked a little about understanding how to create photos that communicate. In this post I am showing your my mentor Don Rutledge’s photos and sharing some of the comments that Don told me as we talked about some of his iconic images.

A mother brings here child to see the doctor.  In the background is a cow that she brought for the doctor. [photo by: Don Rutledge]

To read my thesis I put it online in my blog as separate posts:

Chapter One 

Chapter Two 

Chapter Three 

Chapter Four 


Depth-of-field is more than Aperture

[Photo 1] Egypt—Missionary Mike Edens (left) worked closely with Egyptian Baptist pastors trying to enhance their discipleship and pastoral ministries. These pastors—(left to right) Mikhail Shehata Ghaly and Anwar Dakdouk—took MasterLife discipleship training in Cyprus during 1984. [photo by Don Rutledge]

Technically Depth-of-field—is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.

Don Rutledge

I have never met a photographer who understood more about packing more into a frame to tell a story than Don Rutledge.

The reason is it takes a lot more ability to take a photo of what appears to be clutter and compose it in such a way that you capture a story than it does to isolate by either getting closer or zooming in and isolating a subject.

What Don Rutledge taught me and yet I still haven’t begun to execute it as well as he did was to use the environment around the subject to provide context and tell a better story.

He taught me to spend time with a person before I take a photo of them. Spend time getting to know their story, this way once you know them you start to see things around them and their body language that help inform the audience through visual clues as to who the subject is as a person and how they interact with people in their world.

[Photo 2] While legislators around the nation were debating the need for rat-control laws–and disputing their funding–Don discovered these two youngsters who proudly displayed the results of their morning hunt. In that section of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1968, rats were not particularly difficult quarry to locate.

Don taught many photographers not to just watch the edges of the photograph but pay attention to the “Depth-of-field” when making the photograph. He wanted to use the thing in the foreground and background more than any other photographer I knew to help tell the story.

In Photo 1 you can see down the street and around the men as they walk down the street in Egypt. While most everyone is laughing as if a joke was just told—notice the woman just behind the men. Her expression tells another story.

I can picture this woman being similar to the woman in Matthew 9:20, “If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.” Jesus turned—caught her at it.

She is not apart of the men’s group but has an interest in them.

In Photo 2 you see not just the rat being held by the boy but his friend and the place of their discovery. His friends body language adds so much to the context as does the alley where they found it.

[Photo 3] This is early morning in Mississippi for Luvenia and Bailey King. King sleeps as his wife puts breakfast on the table. [photo by Don Rutledge]

To get this type of “Depth-of-field” Don invested time with his subjects. In 1979 Don spent a month living with the King family in Mississippi. He added just enough money to the family budget to not add any financial stress on the family, but also not to change their living standards so he could cover what it was like living below the poverty line in America.

This photo [Photo 3] became a favorite photo of many from the story. The photo captures Bailey King and shows how thin he is and how hard his wife also worked to provide for the family. It is not a photo just about Bailey, but his wife as well Luvenia.

[Photo 4] Appalachian migrant family in Ohio during 1968. [photo by Don Rutledge]

Here in Photo 4 you can see a father who is obviously concerned and then you see his children in the background. The children are like all children and pull the viewer into the story of a migrant worker who will travel wherever finding work to provide for their family. Many photographers would crop just above the father’s head and left out the boy in the window. The reason is they most likely would not have seen the boy.

Don had a patience about him that let him truly be in the moment. He could see things that most missed. I think Don really and truly had more empathy for his subjects than just about any other photographer I have known.

[Photo 5] Africa—Sally Jones (white coat) felt emotions well up inside as she shared this moment with concerned mothers at the Southern Baptist feeding and health care center’s clinic in Ethiopia.

Many photographers might crop in much tighter on Sally Jones in Photo 5 here. Don goes wide and gets really close to be sure you see her expression. I remember often seeing the contact sheets of moments like this when Don was editing. He would show me the moment before and after where sometimes the lady in the background was only there for one of maybe 10 frames. She adds so much by helping pull you to the background after you have already seen Sally. There are more mothers outside is what this helps to convey.

[Photo 6] Israel—Missionary kid Sommer Hicks plays on the rocks of the sea of Galilee with her dad, Ray Hicks, in the background. [Don Rutledge]

So often photographers get so focused on the main subject they forget that those around the subject can sometimes give us insights into them. Here we get a glimpse of how normal life is for Ray Hicks in Photo 6 when we see how much fun his daughter is having at the sea of Galilee. Don shot it in a way to bring Ray into the photo and give a context that Don did so well time and time again.

Please take a look how often Don uses depth in his photos to tell stories. Here are two coverages of Russia that Don did in the 1980s. Don shot these for a magazine which would only use on average maybe 8 to 12 photos, but look at the true depth of his coverage. I remember seeing these coverages up on so many light tables and Dan Beatty commenting on how he could tell so many stories whenever Don returned.

Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: 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. 


            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.


[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 workplace 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 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 league with National Geographic and Life Magazine for their photography and design.
The reason for their success can be significantly tied 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 over thirty years. 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. In addition, 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 135 coun­tries.

Today, Rutledge is a mentor to many professional photographers and students. All of the photojournalists in the Southern Baptist Convention point to Don as 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 an excellent appreciation for him. He has understood that the common thread that binds all those in minis­try is working with people. Don works with people so well that he has made significant changes in magazines with 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 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 can 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 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 uses his psychology in pho­to­graphing people, and his pictures continually reach audi­ences of over 1.5 million people weekly.

Don’s work has helped people see the work of mission­aries around the world. In addition, 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 church 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 camera’s power as a communication tool. Knolan Benfield, Jr., was a photogra­pher who worked on Missions USA magazine, 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 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 God’s concerns in 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 meet the needs of people worldwide.

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 the 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 decided to follow Jesus Christ. Due to his follow­ing Christ, his work as a Christian photojour­nalist has helped spread the gospel worldwide.

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

Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Chapter Four

         When Dr. Keith Parks went to the Foreign Mission Board in 1975, his respon­sibility was to head up the mission support division.  Establishing one of the finest communications departments possible was one of the goals that Dr. Parks had set for himself and the Foreign Mission Board.  Taking a look around the denomination he discovered that the finest photojour­nalism work being done was done by Don Rutledge.  However, now Don was working for the Home Mission Board. 
         During this time while Dr. Parks was trying to give direction to the communi­cations department, Everette Hullum and Don Rutledge were asked to give a workshop at the Foreign Mission board.  During the workshop Don and Everette talked about working as a team and how they did coverages.  Don remembers that Dr. Parks sat in on the workshop.
         Later around 1979, Dr. Keith Parks heard through the grape vine that Don Rutledge may be interested in leaving the Home Mission Board.  It was then, that Dr. Keith Parks approached Don to come to the Foreign Mission Board.[41]  He also tried to get Everette Hullum but was unable to do so.
         “I feel that he [Don Rutledge] brought a new standard and new level of photojournalism here [Foreign Mission Board] to The Commission as well as other products,” said Dr. Parks.  “The significant detail about Don is not only his sensitivity but that he gives so unselfishly.  Many others have come on our staff fairly new and fairly young and Don has given a lot of time training them, giving them tips and working with them.  He has shared his own expertise very unselfishly.”[42]  This writer is one of the ones that Don took under his wing and trained at the Foreign Mission Board.  Joanna Pinneo was another of those whom Don helped.  She successfully took the suggestions of Don and moved on to work with Black Star and later with National Geo­graphic.
Figure 32 In Guatamalla, missionary Jane Parker works with the Kechi Indians.
         When Don worked with a person it was usu­al­ly because they initiated the con­tact rather than Don.  This occured as a person went to Don ask­ing for advice and contin­ued to return over and over and put into practice Don’s sugges­tions.  Those that did understand and were able to incorporate the sugges­tions of Don into their own direction in photogra­phy did very well. 
Figure 33 Don often talks of the eyes being the
“windows to the soul.”
         “We needed a flagship piece at the Board,” said Dr. Parks.[43]  They made The Commis­sion maga­zine that flag­ship.  To communicate the message through this piece they determined that they needed on the spot coverage.  In the past they had done this, but had got away from on the spot coverage.  They were relying on the missionaries to send in information that they could from the fields.  They designed the idea of getting informa­tion at the location.  The philosophy of team coverage was the direction taken by the board.  They hooked a writer and a photogra­pher together to work on projects.  They went to the countries to gather the together material to be used in publica­tions.  Some of the material was used for mission studies, for news releases and feature articles.
Figure 14 March 1985, was when Don went to Ethiopia to cover the hunger problem.  Here volunteer nurse Sally Jones holds an Ethipian child and comforts the child in the midst of other babies who are being held by their mothers.
        The team philosophy was not new in Southern Baptist life.  It was basically copied from the Home Mission Board with Don acting as a consultant.  Don also brought ideas from his days with Black Star to the Home Mission Board.  The old saying of two heads are better than one really applies to ef­fective communication.  Besides a writer and pho­tographer working togeth­er the team was actually bigger.  A designer, edi­tor, depart­ment head, librarian and others were included in the planning process all the way to the distribution of the product.  The team concept made everyone on the team become special­ists.  This specialization cause each person to make his contri­bution the best pos­sible.  The photographer concen­trated on the images and the writer could concentrate on the words.  The de­signer worked at combining the two ele­ments to work together to communicate the most effective package possible.
Figure 35 The shows an elderly man who came
to the feeding shelter sponsored by Baptist.  Many
are not only hungry but very sick.
         Before these coverages could take place, issues like budget needs had to be raised and planned into the schedule.  Often planning a year or so in advance was done to work out necessary details.  Often these plans would change at the last moment.  Even with de­tailed planning the team discovered that when they arrived on the field, the mission­aries did not un­derstand what the team was doing.  Due to the miles and cultural patterns in­volved in trying to com­municate with the whole world, many prob­lems had to be faced. 
Figure 36 An Ethopian child is rescued from
starvation by volunteers.  Mary Saunders, one
of the volunteers, comforts the mother of the child.
         All this planning later helped them to re­spond positively in crisis situations.  They covered the Earth­quake in Mexico City, and the mud slide in Colum­bia.  Both of these coverages were released through Associated Press and helped the world see how Southern Baptists were responding to the crisis of the world.  This provided good public relations.  It helped Southern Baptists who never see The Commission magazine or a Baptist state paper see for the first time in their local paper the positive work being done through Southern Baptist missions.
Figure 37 Joy is all that can be seen in the eyes of the young.  Rescued from starvation and given hope once again.
          Don’s ability to capture people on film in such a natural way provides a positive con­trast with photographers who wet up posed situa­tions.  Don’s photography “has helped in the total scope of communications” for the Foreign Mission Board.[44]
Figure 38 HOPE——In the face of starvation food is provided to many of these people at the shelter, while others take the food and return home.
         Don is a very sensitive person.  He is sensi­tive to other people.  He has a way of gaining their confidence and very subtly working himself into a situation.  He has tremendous spiritual depth.  Therefore his pictures reflect his sensitivity to people as well as his spiritual commitment.  I have never seen him take a picture or seen a picture he has made that in any way it would embarrass people who saw it.  He always did it in such a way that the people who saw it would be as proud of it as he was.  He has such a sensitive touch, and such a high standard and the feeling of wanting the people who were the objects of the picture to be as proud of the picture as he was as the taker of the picture.  Of course, he has such tremendous background in all of his travel and his awareness of Southern Baptist life and other Christian groups, he just brings a quality and a character to the work that many people don’t.  It’s not just a technical profession to him, it’s a spiritual calling.  You really sense that in what he does and how he does it.”[45]
Figure 39 With food in hand, the people leave the shelter and grounds to return to their families.

Dr. Keith Parks resigned late in 1992 due to the controversy in the Southern Baptist convention which was making it difficult for him to do the job as he saw it.  Don Rutledge and writer Robert O’Brien went with Dr. Parks on his last trip to Rio.

Figure 40 Surgeon Tim Pennell was able to get five of his colleagues from Bowman Gray School of Medicine to commit weeks of vacation time and thousands of dollars to meet their Chinese counterparts.

          Although Don took hundreds of pictures, I hardly noticed because he did it in such an unobtrusive way.  When he put it all together he had really caught the highlights of the meeting and the impact that he wanted.  I just think that he is a first rate fellow from every measurement professional.  Of course, he can and does meet the highest standards of the secular world, and yet his deep spiritual commitment has caused him to give himself to the spiritual cause he believes rather than selling his skills to the highest bidder.  I just think that quality and character come through in his pictures.[46]
Dan Beatty, the design editor of The Com­mission maga­zine commented,
Don is the one person who has complete­ly influenced the direction of the magazine.  Before Don came we knew that there was a certain way we wanted to present the missions material in the magazine.  None of us had a firm grasp on what direction we should go to achieve our goals.  Don really provided the direc­tion for us to go.  Don never expressed any strong feelings about——in a critique type way——on the mag­azine.  Just Don’s presence and constant example of someone who always strives for the best is what guided us along.  He was constantly putting us into contact with different individuals in the field of photojour­nalism and lay­out and design.  He felt these would be good influences on the maga­zine or influ­ences that would help us along the road where we wanted to be with the publication.[47]
Dan was heavily influ­enced by Don and those around Don.  Through Don, Dan was introduced to the people of National Geographic, The Virginia-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, those at Black Star and others.  The awards for best use of pictures by a magazine, given out by the National Press Photographers at the an­nual Pictures-of-the-Year contest, were basical­ly awarded the efforts of Dan Beat­ty.[48]  As a result of Dan receiv­ing this award, most per­sons in photojournalism considered Dan to be at the top of the field.  Dan says,
I would not be doing what I am doing, at the level I am doing it if it hadn’t been for Don.  He is an example of con­sistency and integrity in a field where that is not always a constant with the different people that I’ve met.  He represented something that I wanted to achieve myself.  He has been the biggest influence that I can think of on me personal­ly and the different photographers that I have worked with along with Don.  The thing that impressed me most with Don is his sensitivity and his regard for human beings.  I think that is what made him the asset that Dr. Parks was looking for in communi­cating about Foreign Missions to Southern Baptist and other people as well.  The dig­nity of the human being no mat­ter what the situa­tion is so very impor­tant to Don.  To me that is the real strength of Don’s work.[49]

Figure 41 In the Philippines families cluster together for meal.

         Not everyone at the board was so excited when Don came on board.  When he went to the Home Mission Board he was replacing the only photographer.  There was not a photogra­phy depart­ment.  Howev­er, when Don went to the Foreign Mission Board, there was a lab, the photo library, and photographers already working there.  The For­eign Mission Board was in many ways not any further along photographi­cally than the Home Mis­sion board was when he went there in 1966.  Here in 1980 they were shoot­ing their coverages on medium format cameras.  Hasselblads to be specific.  These cumbersome bodies did not let one shoot available light photogra­phy.  The photogra­phy being done was only glorified snapshots. 

Figure 42 Dr. Jerry Bedsole, a career veterinarian mission­ary, doctors the animals of the people in his open-air clinic.

        Survey trips were the way that photography was done.  The photographers would plan a trip and shoot stock photography.  These pictures were for the files and not for any specific story usually.  The pictures did not tell a story at all.  They were scenics of buildings and when peo­ple were includ­ed they all stood facing the camera.  If there were more than two people, generally they just lined them up for the group shot. 

         The magazine was dull and boring.  The technological advances had passed the board years ago in layout 

Figure 43

and design.  The Foreign Mission Board had a larger lab, more photogra­phers and even a larger photo library, but still their work was much poorer than what the Home Mission Board was produc­ing.  Some might say that Don had lost his marbles.  Why leave the Home Mission Board and go to a place like the Foreign Mission Board.  Sounds so familiar to the same reasons that he went from Black Star to the Home Mission Board.

Figure 44 The child is suffering from malnutrition.
The volunteers often see these faces of hopelessness
and they bring back the hope for the families.

         After going to the Foreign Mission Board, Don ran into problem after problem once again.  The board had just adopt­ed a policy to help those moving to Richmond to be able to get loans through the F.M.B.  But Carl Johnson told Don that although the govern­ing board had approved it he could not let Don use this program.  Interest rates were sky high.  Don took a cut in salary and went from paying a house payment of a couple of hundred dollars to four times as much.  The house wasn’t much big­ger.  It was just the nature of the housing market.  Don said he took a major cut in pay when figuring in all the costs of the move.

Figure 45

          Phil Douglas, a layout and design specialist, was putting together a book and had asked Don to contrib­ute to the book some of his work.  The Home Mission Board and the Foreign Mission Board were using and had used Phil Douglas’ consulting ser­vices at the time.  Ken Lawson did not think that this was a good idea and refused to let Don’s pic­tures from the Foreign Mission Board be used in the book.  The Home Mission Board did coop­erate with the project and let Don’s photo’s be used.  Many in the com­munica­tions department were giving Don a hard time.  Dr. Keith Parks had as­signed Don directly to the top of the Communi­ca­tions Department head, Johnni Scofield.  This infuriated many in the department.  They felt they had been there longer and deserved the prestige that was being given to Don by Dr. Parks. 

Figure 46 No shoes or protection for their feet, leaves many with feet problems.

         After looking at the two agencies and comparing the acceptance of Don by then the difficulties that he incurred at the two agencies, this writer has drawn a conclusion.  At the Home Board Don was faced with people questioning his knowl­edge of the technical, while at the Foreign Board they were jealous.  He communicat­ed well at both agencies.  The sources of his problems at the agencies were very different. 

Figure 47 A mother brings here child to see the doctor.  In the background is a sheep that she brought for the doctor.

         Those that were being asked by Parks to change their approaches were having to deal with major issues.  Dr. Parks wanted Don to direct the publications.  Perhaps those who followed willingly posses more self-esteem than those who fought the battle of falling. Don did not confront this issue.  He just let his work do the talking.  Slowly many changed their views after seeing the impact of Don’s work.

Figure 48 Seeing this landscape gives an idea of how the area looks without any grass, anything growing, a very desolate place.

         The ties that Don had with Black Star and others in the secular world helped many on the staff.  Steve Helber, the Asso­ciated Press Photographer for the state of Virginia, called Don one day asking for some help.  Steve had worked in Atlanta and knew Don from those days in Atlanta.  Don was too busy but suggested that Joanna Pinneo could probably help.  This introduction helped Joanna, then a lab techni­cian in the darkroom at the Foreign Mission Board, get the experience shooting.  Steve Helber took Joanna under his wing and taught her the in’s and out’s of wire service photogra­phy.  With Steve and Don working with Joanna, soon Joanna was doing coverages for the Foreign Mission Board.

Figure 49 Volunteer Mary Saunders has made a good friend in Ethiopia.

         Don helped Joanna by going over her contact sheets with her.  Slowly things were coming to­gether.  Her background was art and psychology.  Don helped her use this back­ground in photo­journalism.  Steve Helber helped Joanna develop her style of impact.  In the wire ser­vices pictures had to have immediate impact or the editors would not use them in their papers.  This under­standing cou­pled with Don’s magazine back­ground helped Joanna get some of the founda­tions that she later built upon to make her one of the most successful pho­tographers in the field today.  Howard Chapnick was grateful for being intro­duced to Joanna through Don.[50]  One can see through Joanna, Don’s teaching ability.

         What does Don teach others that they do already know?  Don teaches persons how to see again.  “Why is the sky blue?  Why is one flower red and another yellow?  How do the stars stay up in the sky?  Why is the snow cold?,” are questions Don says that children ask and adults forget to ask.  Once these questions are not asked the world becomes humdrum.  Don teaches those around him how to appreciate the small details and how these small details say so much.  Don says, “Photography forces me to continue asking questions which began in my childhood and probing for answers in the maturity of my life.  The ‘seeing beyond what the average person sees’ fills me constantly with excitement and allows me to keep the dreams of my youth.  It gives my ‘seeing’ a newness and freshness as I work hard to communicate through photog­raphy the messages I want to convey.”[51] 

Figure 50 Volunteer Mike Edens taught these two pastors Mikhail Shehata Ghaly and Anwar Dakdouk MasterLife Discipleship training in Cypress during 1984.

         Black Star gave Don the opportunity to pursue this direction and later the Home Mission Board nurtured this call of Don’s.  The desire keeps him going now with the Foreign Mission Board.  As a result of work with these groups, Don has been in all 50 states, all but two of the Canadian Provinces and 137 countries.[52]  This travel has help Don to see how small the world really is.  He has noticed that once he arrives in another country the people are very similar and live very much alike.  The smile still means the same the world over. 

         Often Don is asked to speak to photography conferences.  He advises the photo­journalists who work on the local papers to learn how to work where they are now.  The ability to look good has little to do with where you are located in the world and who you are photographing.  The ability to communicate must be there in the local market.  For the past twenty years this writer/photographer has looked at Don Rutledge’s work.  The pictures in Russia look very similar to his pictures in Kentucky.  The differences were smaller than the similarities.  Don’s photographs concentrate on the emotions of people.  No matter where you are located in the world, people’s emotions stand above languages and cultures.  These small moments of expression communicate across our language barriers.  Foreign Missions has been one of the best places for Don’s work to excel.  Here his style of photography was not bound by words or cultures.  Body-language is a very powerful form of communication.  The difference between a “No Comment” on a show like 60 Minutes and the same words in print is obvious.

Figure 51 Missionary Kid, Ellen Duval, loves her cats and books and this is what helps her make home in Indonesia.
         While Don was doing a coverage to show where Lottie Moon grew up in the mountains of Virginia, he was reminded of how small the world had always been.  He discovered that Lottie Moon spoke several languages and that many of the people in the hills of Virginia today speak many languages.  Some of the people Don ran into speak Asian languages like Chinese.[53]
         How does Don continue, year after year, to make photographs where the people appear not to notice Don.  Don’s favorite lens for years has been the 28mm lens.  This lens requires Don to get twice as close as he appears to be in the actual photo­graph.  When viewing Don’s photographs, realize that he is usually twice as close as he appears.  Don’s style of photogra­phy requires the subject to allow Don to enter his personal space.  If someone enters the personal space of most people, they appear uptight and tense.  But if their best friend enters that space they seem warmer and personable.  This immediacy that Don creates with the camera breaks down the walls of culture and status.  People become real when Don photographs them.  Don wants us to see the positive side of people.  This ability comes from years of hard work on the part of a man commited to his calling to ministry, the ministry of helping others the people and the world with “his father’s eyes.”


[41] Dr. Keith Parks, interview by author, Tape recording, Richmond, Virginia, 26 October 1992.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Dan Beatty, interview by author, Tape recording, Richmond, Virginia, 27 October 1992.

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

[49] Interview with Beatty.

[50] Interview with Chapnick.

[51] Don Rutledge, “Using Photography: To look beyond the backyard fence” unpublished, 1992.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Don Rutledge, Interview by author, Richmond, 1985.

Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Chapter Three


            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 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. Walker Knight and Jay Durham hoped they could secure Don Rutledge to fill the position.[17]  At the time, Jay Dur­ham was the Director of Media Services for the Home Mission Board.
Figure 14 Baily King in front of his home in Quinten, Mississippi.
            Don did not drift into mission work. Don Rutledge’s turning from a secular career to expressing 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. 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 fulfilled 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 the Audio Visual Department hired him. 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. For example, 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 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 extensive, some departments would cover the same story. Don Rutledge contacted Black Star, and after talking with
Figure 16 The difference between Bailey King and one of his childhood neighbors is that his neighbor only had to buy a guitar, and Bailey had to purchase land. That was the differ­ence between him and Johnny Cash. [interview with Don Rutledge, 1985]
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 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 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 images 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 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. Like the camera issue, many other problems were 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 an important meeting to set things straight. In a sizeable de­partment meeting, Don was told how to put 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, 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, 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 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 worked for national magazines like National Geo­graphic.  Ken Touchton, Steve Wall, Jim Wright, and others went on to significant careers in photojournalism after meeting Don.

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

Jim Wright put them on the dark room walls as guides. Jim printed the negatives until he could match the quality of the prints made by the Modern Age. Every good photogra­pher needs an equally good lab techni­cian. The lab techni­cian is just as creative as the photographer. Often negatives are challenging 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 factors 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. Unfortunately, he had a stroke and has been unable to work.
         Dallas Lee was excited by the stories Don and he were working on together. He would walk in early, see all that was going on, and 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 was going 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 Cartier-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 of the journalist’s 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. As one looks at the pic­tures, one moves 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 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 Kings were pro­vided a brick home by the read­er­ship of the maga­zine.[29]  Before going to Missis­sippi to do the cover­age on the King family, Don had been reading Hans Kung’s 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 lis­tened to Bailey as a good journalist and 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 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 an excellent under­standing of such a complex idea. Theologians studied 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. So 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 have been workin’ since I’m 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, one notices that often the pic­tures have two or three pic­tures in one pic­ture. Don excels in this approach more than any other dominant photo style 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. As a result, the photo­graph has much infor­mation and keeps giv­ing in­formation every time one looks at the photo­graph.
Figure 27

Many photographers like to keep things simple. For example, they may use a 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 the use of 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 with the King family for three weeks, Don got 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 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 may have relatively 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. Photojournalists are called many names by media personnel. Christlike is far from the description provided 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; in this way, he 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 daycare 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 career or his fame or notoriety.”[35]
            Don can help one grow in the field of commu­nica­tion. His gift is pointing out the weak­nesses in a shoot and 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. As the writer started to focus on the positives, the more Don would com­ment. Finally, when the writer became bold and asked Don what was wrong with some 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 to 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 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 their work, 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 he could just 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 Dr. Arthur Rutledge’s direction in home missions not only made Don proud to be Southern Baptist but also 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 job 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 unaware 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 very religious 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 learned how much one knows about him by looking at the photo­graphs.
            The central 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 communicated 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 members of is Christians in Photojournalism.
            Why did Don leave Black Star, come to the Home Mission Board, and 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 fashioned the field of photojournalism. Staying with the significant 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. Finally, 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 he was to take on while working for the South­ern Baptists.
            Many 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 complex issues helped him commu­nicate effectively. While in college studying psychology, Don learned valuable insight into 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 photo 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, respected his opinion, and asked for his opinion, then Don spoke. On a few rare occasions, Don gave his idea when not requested.
            After coming to the Home Mission Board in 1966, Don significantly impacted the agency’s publication work. Don’s coverages and the writers he worked with highly affected Southern Baptists. People were writing to complain and to complement the magazine. Due to Don’s abilities, the Home Mission Board made 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.

Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Chapter Two


Don Rutledge


Don was born in Smithfield, Tennessee.  Not long after being born the family moved to Murfreesboro, Ten­nessee, south of Nash­ville.  “Good ole’ home folk,” is what you would say about the Rutledges.  They lived on a farm where all of them worked togeth­er as a family.  Growing up in rural Tennes­see is where Don was ex­posed to the world.  Don’s family was involved in the local Baptist com­munity church, where they were often praying for and listen­ing to missionaries from all over the world.  Although this family was in the coun­try, they were not limited by any means.  This world vision is what would drive Don throughout his life. One of Don’s uncles had a box camera.  Don asked if he could use it.  Going to the local drug store, he bought some film and went back to the farm to explore his own home with a camera.  Don took many dif­ferent pictures of the farm while he was a teenager.   Having these photographs developed, he started to see the mysteri­ous power of the photograph.   

While attending Temple College in Chattanoo­ga, Tennes­see, Don took photo­graphs for the student paper and year book.  This experience helps to build his techni­cal skills and proficiency with the camera.        

During the sum­mers Don went on mis­sion trips to help mis­sion­aries in places like Central America.  Recording these visits with his camera, he then would show the pictures to his church and other groups.

Figure 4 John Howard Griffin uses the heat lamps to help tan his
skin with the aid of drugs.  This process helped to change him into
appearing Black.

They not only enjoyed the photo­graphs, but were “trans­ported” from Tennessee to Central America, through the “eyes of Don.”  Don was always pulling for the underdog, since he could relate.  While in high school some boys jumped Don and seriously hurt him.  He had been wear­ing braces at the time.  His mouth was beaten up outside and inside.  He later found each of the boys alone and repaid the fa­vor.  He knew very well what it was like to be a minority in umber.  This experi­ence taught Don, that there are times when people need others to help them.

Figure 5 John Howard Griffin uses makeup to smooth out his complexion

Don’s helping nature moved him into the ministry.  Don was an­swering the call to the ministry that he felt deep inside of himself.  After talking to church leaders, Don was led to believe that the only place that he could serve as a minister was as a pastor or a mis­sionary.

Don Rutledge majored in religion and psychology in college.  These two give Don the edge on under­standing people.  Theol­ogy is cen­tered on relation­ships.  The Bible teaches us how God wants and desires a relationship with his people.  We also learn through the Bible about the relation­ships between people.  Nurturing each other as believers and reaching out to God’s world is what the Bible teaches.  Jesus said,

Figure 6 Checking his makeup one last time before venturing out as a Black man.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”        

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”        

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, what­ever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”[1]

Don’s life reflects this passage.        

The psychology taught him how to read body lan­guage.  Body language is very important in Rutledge’s photographs.  The body language is more than peak actions of anger, sadness or happiness.  It runs the full range of emotions.  Both the theology and psychology become so integrated in Rutledge’s work that it is difficult to separate the two.

Figure 7 Mr. Griffin talks to the help in a restaurant in New Orleans.

Don wanted to help people in need and aid them in acquiring dignity.  Don, through his preaching, tried to communicate to people but was never truly comfortable in the pulpit.        

While at Temple College, Don served as president of the student body.  He was a very quick thinker in his own right.  Don grew up in the most conservative of backgrounds.  Like many from this conservative background, Don saw some of the fault of this thinking.  Later Don would see that very few groups have it all together.  Throughout college, Don started trying to find his niche in society.        

After graduating, the Director of Missions of Murfreesboro Association in Tennessee asked Don to consider pastoring a church.  He talked to Don about how the church was falling apart.  Going into this pastorate Don was planning to help the church close its doors.  Coming from the very conservative group, where most pastors ruled with certain authority, Don took a completely different approach.  Don encour­aged the people to grow as individuals and as a group.  He let them take control of the church.  The reason for this “hands off” practice was twofold in nature:  (1) Don did not believe in telling people what to do, and (2) he was pursuing the career as a photo­journalist during the week.        

Being a bi-vocational pastor allowed Don to combine two loves.  Don was fulfilling the call to the ministry and was trying to understand this call of photog­raphy.        

In 1955, Don frequently wrote Howard Chapnick at Black Star, a photo agency in New York.  Don had noticed the cut-lines of the photographers in magazines and noticed that Black Star represent­ed many of the photographers.  Black Star told Don they wanted to see a portfo­lio before giving him an assignment.  Don didn’t have a portfolio.  During the time Don was corre­spond­ing, he gave them story idea after story idea.

Figure 8 The shoe shine man had to be told by Don
that John Howard Griffin was white and not black.  He
could hardly believe that this man was really white.

Black Star was frus­trated with the person who kept writing them so often.  He had some good ideas, but can he take a photograph?  They wrote back letting him know that they liked one of his ideas.  They contacted the parties to see if they were interested.  That first story was for Friends magazine.  This was the magazine of the Chevrolet Compa­ny.        

Don was so de­lighted with the response, he imme­diate­ly contacted the people in the area for the story and went and shot the story, also writing the material, and sent the package of contact sheets and material to Black Star.  Black Star was quite upset. “We haven’t even talked to them and you have already shot the story,” was the reply Don received.  They also in­formed him of the many holes in the story and how it would not work.  This was their mistake.

Figure 9 In New Orleans, John Howard Griffin outside a movie theater entrance.

Don contacted the people again and went back filling in the holes.  This was Don’s really first time to have someone cri­tique his work and guide him.  The Friends magazine not only liked the work but wanted to use Don again.  This was the begin­ning of a close relation­ship of Don with Black Star and even more so with Howard Chapnick.

Figure 10 Don’s awareness of body language is sometimes very clear-cut, like here in this photograph of a teacher and stu­dents.  Often the body language is more subtle in Don’s photographs.  Body language is always important in Don’s photographs.

Meanwhile, Don’s career with Black Star was growing and so, too, was the church.  Don’s leadership style, which required all the people to become in­volved, saved the church and helped it to become a strong church of the com­mu­nity.  Don realized that the church needed some­one full-time.  Don joked with the people saying that when he was gone doing an assignment and another person filled the pulpit, the attendance was always higher.  Don felt more at ease as a photog­rapher and less content as a pas­tor.  Don re­signed, and the church today still has good memories of Don.  They con­tinue to invite him to speak at homecoming.

Living so close to Nash­ville was ideal for a photogra­pher.  Black Star needed coverages of the Grand Ole’ Opry and special coverage of the personali­ties in the Nashville area.  Mirror magazine had asked Black Star to find the next up—and—com­ing country star in Nashville.

Figure 11 Don took this in 1967 inside the Arctic Circle.  People are so comfortable with Don that he is able to be apart of the woodwork.

Don was given the assignment.  Don asked around about how to find someone who would know about the up—and—coming stars.  After searching throughout the Nash­ville area, Don was told about a man who gave pens to those stars that were up and coming.  This man was supposed to be the best at spotting new talent.  The man happened to be under Don’s nose all the time.  The man who knew all the up—and—coming stars worked at the camera store Rutledge patronized.  The man who had been waiting on Rutledge for years was the expert on country singers.

After talking with this expert, Don went to this unknown country singer’s home and wondered if this person new what he was doing.  Don sat on a crate, talked to Loretta Lynn, and did the story.  This interview is portrayed in the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”  Don helped to launch the career of Loretta Lynn.  Don photo­graphed many of the stars of Nashville for Black Star.        

Don did coverages for Black Star on religious subjects.  He followed the Wycliff translators into the Amazon.  He photographed a theater group at Georgetown College in Kentucky that painted their faces like stained glass.  The story was again religious in nature.

Figure 12“Don discovered these two young­sters who
proudly displayed the results of their morn­ing
hunt.  In that section of Cincinnati, rats were not
particularly difficult quarry to locate.”
[Walk­er Knight, See How Love Works]

While Don had started working with Black Star, our country was in a major turmoil.  Although Lincoln had helped to free the slaves, the Blacks were still in bondage in America.  Racism had led the country to the Civil Right’s Move­ment.  Dr. Martin Luther King and other prominent people in the movement, were photographed by Don.  His camera helped America to see itself in the mirror.  Most of the country did not like what it saw.  Don Rutledge helped America see how the South was an apartheid.  Today in South Africa it is being played out again.  But in the late fifties and early sixties the United States had its insides turned out for the world to see.

Don was raised in the midst of the racist environment of the South, but was not at all a part of the oppression of the Blacks.  Don was one of the strongest photojournalistic voices during this time.   Don not only covered the news events, but created with a writer one of the most powerful books during the Civil Rights move­ment: Black Like Me.        

One day while he was reading the newspaper, Don noticed an article about a street in Atlanta, Georgia, that had more Black millionaires than anywhere else in the world.  How could this be?  Black millionaires in the South?  Don contacted Black Star with the idea of doing a story on this idea.  They checked their connections to see what magazines might be interested.  They found a magazine based in Fort Worth, Texas, that was interested.  They sent the writer, John Howard Griffin, to work with Don on the coverage.  While the two of them worked on the story, Howard Griffin talked with Don about an idea concerning the Civil Rights issue.        

John Howard Griffin had the idea of taking some hormonal drugs that would alter his appearance, mak­ing him look Black.  He also would style his hair dif­ferently as to look as much like a Black as possible.  His idea was to cover the story of what it was like to be a Black in the South just from being a different skin color.  This story intrigued Don.  After complet­ing the story on the million­aires, John Howard Griffin and Don disap­peared into the deep South to do the coverage for Black Like Me.

Figure 13 During 1967 Don went to Dania, Florida and
photographed this Seminole woman sitting under a
chickee, a thatched hut of Indian design.

As they worked on the coverage, they sent the pictures back to the maga­zine.  This made certain that everything was coming out fine and the cameras were working well.  Howard Chapnick of Black Star told this story over and over to many photogra­phers emphasiz­ing the difficulties in which one can get involved when working without a good agency.  Don was not on staff for Black Star but was a major freelancer for them.

The editor of the magazine sent some of the photographs over the wire service before Don and the writer were ready for them to do so.  This had editors all over the world call­ing, wanting the story.  They were bid­ding for first rights to the story.  Black Star sold the story all over the world.  Then the pub­lisher indicated that Don had commit­ted to him all the rights.  “This was what I thought was an unscru­pulous publisher,” ac­cording to Chapnick.[2]  There were meetings with Don, Howard Chapn­ick and the publisher.  The publisher said, “You are sophisticated urban New Yorkers, and I am just a country boy.”  “Well this coun­try boy really took us over,” remarked Howard Chapnick.  “Because of his high sense of ethics, he really didn’t want to battle the man for money.  So all this good work that he did and the good work we did in placing the material, all went for naught as far as the fi­nancial return for Don.”[3]        

“His strength over the years was his high sense of ethics and his religiosity, if you will,” commented Chapnick.  “This carried through into his concern for mankind and the important issues.  He tried to use pho­togra­phy to make people aware of the great problems in the world.  He used it as a force for change; changing public perceptions and alert­ing the world to the prob­lems that the world suffers like poverty and sickness.”[4]        

“One of his great strengths is that he was very observant of the world around him, not only in terms of the big stories, but the little stories, too.   He had this happy faculty of being responsive to visually translatable ideas which could be made into saleable entities.”[5]        

Don was concerned that the pictures were becoming more important than the story itself.  Don gave the negatives to John Howard Griffin.  The book came out.  Don never received any roy­al­ties.  The result was that Black Star had to give all the money it had received to the magazine.        

“Don was always good at providing background information and captions, and this is something that isn’t always apparent with a photojournalist.  They tend to be pretty sloppy in adding the important words which give more informa­tion than photographs, which sometimes are ambiguous.  There were few that were as prolific as Don,” remarked Howard Chapnick.[6]        

Eugene Smith could be considered to be Don Rutledge’s mentor in photogra­phy.  Eugene Smith was one who tried to capture with the camera more than just people as objects——he tried to capture the essence of the person in his photographs.  Eugene Smith kept the dignity of those he photographed and made them heroes in the story.  The subjects were romanti­cized by Eugene Smith.  People, like the Doctor that he shot for Life mag­azine, were al­ways por­trayed in such a way that the viewer identified with the sub­ject.        

Don studied pho­tography masters and often quoted them.  This was Don’s educa­tion——reading and studying the masters of photogra­phy and being aware of the world in which he lives.  Being a Christian means growing in Christ.  As a Christian grows he should be able to just move easily into situations and respond with the heart of Christ.  “One does not think dur­ing creative work, any more than one thinks when driving a car.  But one has a background of years——learning, un­learning; success, failure, dreaming, thinking, experience, all this——then the moment of creation, the focusing of all into the moment,” was the statement made by Edward Weston.[7]        

Jesus looked at people as individuals——he saw the tree in the forest.  Christians, too, must focus on the individuals in their minis­try.  Photographing people should reflect how one cares for people.  “The photographer should not come to his subject with his image all fabricated in his head,” says Robert Doisneau.  He continues saying, “The photogra­pher must be absor­bent——like a blotter, allow himself to be penetrated by the poetic moment, by the spirit of the place where he finds him­self.”[8]        

Don is true to the moment and never asks people to stage something.  He may ask them to repeat something but never fabricate anything unnatural.  “Nature has a great deal more imagination than I have; why should I try to improve on it?  The best I can do is to look for these manifestations and to photo­graph them before they get away.”[9]        

Don believes that pictures are not merely to document an event or show what a person looks like, but to communicate the essence of the event or person to the audience.  “The best pictures are made by those photographers who feel some excitement about life and use the camera to share their enthusiasm with others.  The camera in such hands is a medium for communicating vital experi­ence,” voiced Roy Stryker, editor of Life magazine.[10]  For Ben Shahn, “Photog­ra­phy is a matter of communi­cation in human terms and mostly in human subjects, and I have set this very sim­ple problem for myself, of showing humanity in those terms that interest me and in the clearest way.”[11]  Eu­gene Smith said, “The more important the story, the better the photographer should try to tell it.  Even when the material is suffi­ciently important to make its impact regardless of the quality of my print, the more powerful the picture, the more certain I am that people will have a chance to under­stand what I want to say.”[12]        

Jesus, rising from the tomb was the culmination of the gospel.  He defeated death.  The choice of his words were so wise and timely.  The Bible pictures impor­tant events as moments, not as long events. To me, photogra­phy is recognition in a fraction of a second, simul­taneously of the significance of an event as well as of precise formal organization which brings to life that event.

The camera works fast, and so does the photogra­pher.  Within the second he has to see and to feel, to under­stand and to select, to react and to act.  Movement and expression unseen before it is stopped.  A mo­ment is captured that never was and never will be again.

All attention is con­centrated on the spe­cific moment, almost too good to be true, which can only vanish in the second that follows and which pro­duces an impact impossible with any staged set­ting.[13]
Photography has a unique power to awaken social conscience.  If you are genuinely concerned with the plight of the people you are photographing, and are convinced that your photographs can do some­thing——however little——to help them, then your sincerity and good intentions will inevitably shine through.  This in itself will help you to secure from the people around you the coopera­tion that is essential if you are to produce good pictures.

On a practical level, try to be as sensitive as you can to the feelings of the people you are photo­graphing or working with, and make sure your photo­graphic technique reflects this sensitiv­ity.  Keep a low profile by using avail­able light, not flash, and remember that many people are easily intimidated or antagonized by ostenta­tious display of photographic equipment.[14]        

When Don’s colleagues are asked about Don and how he has impacted them, they all refer to his integrity.  Don communicates well the idea of the eyes being the window to the soul.  Maybe this is because Don tries to keep the innocence of a child when photograph­ing.  Don says,

         Photography is a fascinating communications medium.  It forces us to see, to look beyond what the average person observes, to search where some people never think to look.  It even draws us back to the curiosity we experienced in our childhood.         

Children are filled with excitement about their surrounding world:  Why is the sky blue?  Why is one flower red and another yellow?  How do the stars stay up in the sky?  Why is the snow cold?         

As the years go by that curious child matures into a normal adult with the attitude of “who cares anymore about those childish questions and an­swers?”  At that moment much of the world becomes mundane, little more than a place of survival until retirement and finally death.         

But photography, in its best usage, will not allow us to do that.  It forces us to continue asking ques­tions which began in our childhood and probe for an­swers in the maturity of our life.  The “seeing beyond what the average person sees” fills us constantly with excitement and allows us to keep the dreams of our youth.  It gives “seeing” a newness and freshness as a person works hard to communicate through photogra­phy the messages that need to be conveyed.[15]

Don always tried to look at life in a creative way.  Don took frequent rides into the country with his wife Lucy.  The writer and his wife would go along.  Often Lucy wanted to look through Don’s camera to see what Don was seeing.  “He always sees something that I do not see,” was Lucy’s praise of Don.  She enjoyed seeing Don’s photographs.  Don says that she is his biggest critic and fan.  She can be so honest with Don, and Don listens.        

For Don to be on the road and have two young boys growing up required Lucy to run the household while he was away and help make the transition when Don returned home.  Things were not always smooth at home, but today Mark, the oldest, is a mission­ary with his wife in Haiti.  Craig, the youngest, works with the Home Mission Board in Atlanta at the main office.

Today Don does not enjoy eating at fast food hamburger places.  For the first years on the road that was all that he could afford.  Often Don drove home several hours after a cover­age to return early the next morning, because he did not have the money for a motel.  For Don to make the pilgrimage that he did, he had to remain committed.  He also had to have a real call, for the struggles were sometimes unbear­able.  Going from the pulpit to the streets of the world opened Don’s eyes and allowed him to see God’s world as a boy from the farm in Tennessee could have never imagined.  Don’s coverages in the fifties and sixties helped to pave the way for the coverages he would later request to do in the religious establishment.  These years with Black Star established him as one who was capable of delivering.  Don had a back­ground that showed he had covered the top stories in the world.  Even with this background, Don continued to struggle.  Portfolio or no portfolio, his next stop in Atlanta tested his patience and endur­ance at wanting to be a minister with a camera.

    [1] Matthew 25:35-40, NIV (New International Version).    [2] Mr. Howard Chapnick, interview by author, Tape recording, New York, New York, 12 October 1992.    [3] Ibid.    [4] Ibid.     [5] Ibid.    [6] Ibid.    [7] Jacob Deschin, 35mm Photography, (New York: A. S. Barnes and Company 1959), 14.    [8] Ibid.    [9] Ibid.    [10] Ibid.    [11] Ibid.    [12] Ibid., 15.    [13] Ibid.    [14] George Constable, Photographing the Drama of Daily Life, (Chicago: Time-Life Books, 1984), 72.    [15] Don Rutledge, “Better photos for your publication or photography for communicators.”  Unpublished article given to writer by Don Rutledge, 1992.

Don Rutledge my mentor

Don’s awareness of body language is sometimes very clear-cut like here in this photograph of teacher and students. Often the body language is more subtle in Don’s photographs. Body language is always important in Don’s photographs.

I am processing film at the Hickory Daily Record when I get a phone call from Don Rutledge. He told me about an entry-level photographer position for the International Mission Board.

The chance to learn from Don Rutledge was one of the best opportunities in my life. While I wanted Don to look at my work, it was Don taking time to walk me through his contact sheets that helped me the most.

Don’s storytelling with his camera helped missionaries realize God’s calling for them. Those impacted by his work is vast.  Just as vast as his stories are those he mentored.

Harley Shields is a Southern Baptist Home Missionary whose work place is Selawik, Alaska. Don photographed him in 1978.

Unless Don was on the phone his door was open at the office. While I worked with Don I cannot remember how many people that came by or called to ask for Don’s advice. No matter how bad their work, Don treated each and everyone with honor, dignity and respect.

He always looked for something positive to talk about with them. I learned that when Don would look through my contact sheets if he passed over a sheet then he couldn’t find something to say something positive. He was often very quiet while looking at my work early on.  He would then reach for his contact sheets to talk—rather than say my work stunk.

In 1967 Don Rutledge went inside the Arctic Circle and captured this Eskimo child playing.

What Don taught me was how important it was to not use visual gimmicks to create interest in a subject. Don taught me to learn how to compose a scene like you might see a stage in theater. When the curtain rises the composition has been done, but then the scene develops. The audience doesn’t get different camera angles; they see the subjects moving in the scene. Don helped me to understand the rise, the peak and the fall of the action. He showed me my contact sheets should show this rise, peak and fall.

“Don discovered these two youngsters who proudly displayed the results of their morning hunt. In that section of Cincinnati, rats were not particularly difficult quarry to locate,” said Walker Knight.

Don then taught me how important it was to understand body language. I remember him showing me a series on a contact sheet. See the mother reaching out to the baby.  See how just before she touches the baby it is more powerful image than we she actually touches the baby. The anticipation is stronger than the actual touch. He then reminded me of Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel painting of the creation of Adam. Reaching of God and not touching.

Don understood how important the relationship of people to each other in the photo is the real power of the storytelling image.

In the Philippines families cluster together for meal.

Don understood that his God gave his life for a relationship with each one of us. Nothing was more important than to establish and grow relationships. All of Don’s work was to show the power of God’s love. You either see the celebration of God’s love or you feel the sadness of someone who isn’t letting God into their life.

Don helped me to realize how I could fulfill my call to ministry with the camera. Don was a pastor who realized the camera was a pulpit and the congregation wasn’t limited by the walls of a church.

Don Rutledge

My clients today tell me often how much they like my storytelling. My success is due to Don taking me under his wing and teaching me.

Some of my friends who were also mentored by Don have commented to me that they can see Don’s influence in my work. While this always brings a tear and lump in my throat it has been photographers who thank me for teaching them that makes me the proudest.

The greatest way I have to honor Don is to make photos that respect the subject and tell their story. Also helping other photographers like Don helped me is a way to pay it forward.

I can never thank Don enough for helping me to see the world through God’s eyes.

Photo Tips I learned from Don Rutledge

Don Rutledge went to Russia a few times and this is his second trip.  The reason I am using his work as an example is because in my mind his work is stellar and has majorly impacted my work and many of my colleagues work as well.

While many would wait until the lady in front walked out of the frame, Don included her. The two men look very much like Americans, but the woman looked very much like the stereo type of a Russian woman.

What is important is how Don used all the frame for his work.  He also used it so well artists were complaining that they couldn’t crop his photos. This usually did lead to some good discussions. When a designer crops a photo that is well composed they change the meaning.

A great designer who is working with a writer and photojournalist in a journalistic coverage will layout the story after looking through the images and selecting those that help tell the story.  Laying out the spread and then finding images to fill the holes is using photography as a decoration and not as communication.

Visiting the vertical photo above again look at how the men are looking one way and the woman is going the other. Do you pick up on the tension that the composition helps to create?

Don uses all the frame to help contain the message and to draw the reader into the photo.

The photo of the crowd walking towards you take a moment and look at the far left and right of the frame. Don has meticulously had the edges hold the man to the left and the woman on the far right in the photo.  Many photographers would often slice into the folks or have it too loose. The bottom of the frame is just below their feet giving extra space at the top of the frame. The top of the frame is where you have a sense of depth.

While the angle of the buildings roof line is at an angle creates depth, it is the open sky that opens the photo even more from front to back. Just cover the photo at the top and block off the open sky part and you will see how much that makes a difference in depth of the photograph.

Balance and context are achieved here in this photo of the pianist and the choir to the right.

In art class they teach about asymmetric balance.  Here in the photo with the pianist Don uses this technique to create a sense of calm and tranquility. The beams in the ceiling go towards the windows which helps to create a sense of depth. Some of the ladies in the choir are looking at the pianist playing which helps connect the choir back to the pianist.

While Don would have found this composition, he would have stayed here for a while until he had enough different frames. He is looking for the pianist to be playing and the choir to have a moment where they are paying attention to her.  Take out all those blinks or someone picking their nose (that happens a lot, especially during prayers) and you then are picking a moment that best captures the worship tone that Don was going for in this photograph.

Examine the edges of Don’s photo. Why did he choose those edges? Then start looking for a subject. After you find the main subject look for something like a verb. After finding the verb look for secondary subjects.  What about some adjectives and adverbs, do you see any?

I love the little girl singing here in church. How do you know it is church?  Look at the pulpit to the right. Don left this in to help establish this as not a school play. Notice the women to the far left. Look especially at the lady on the front row. She really helps the photo because her expression really helps. You can see the lady to the right of her and closest to the girl singer and her expression also helps set a tone. The little bit of the objects at the top of the frame give a sense of even a bigger room.

As you watch the slide show look at the edges and see if you would change anything. Look to see if Don used things to help create depth and not make the photo look too flat.

While there is a primary subject look and see how the other subjects in the photo compliment the main subject. Do they create tension or just help establish a mood.

See if you see one guy laying in the background.  This was the translator who was thinking he was getting out of the way, but Don included him to add a little perspective.

Here is slide show of his coverage. Created a while back and requires flash.

If any of these photos moved you, please comment on it below.  Tell me why it moved you.