Photographer Don Rutledge is seen in an undated photo provided by the International Mission Board, in Richmond, Va. Rutledge, who won acclaim shooting photos during the civil rights movement before turning his lens toward Christian photography, died Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 at his home near Richmond, Va. He was 82. (AP Photo/International Mission Board)
Updated: March 25, 2013 7:02AM
RICHMOND, Va. — Donald “Don” Rutledge, who won acclaim shooting photos during the civil rights movement before turning his lens toward Christian photography, died Tuesday at his home near Richmond. He was 82.
Mr. Rutledge grew up in Smithville, Tenn., starting out as a Baptist preacher while still in high school. After seminary school, he instead went to work for Black Star, a top photojournalism agency, and traveled the globe shooting photos for Life, Look and other magazines.
It was his photos for John Howard Griffin’s 1961 book “Black Like Me” about Griffin’s experiences of racism in the Jim Crow-era South that garnered Mr. Rutledge national acclaim. Griffin chemically darkened his skin to appear black and wrote about the difficulties he experienced in Atlanta and New Orleans as a “black” man under segregation while Mr. Rutledge photographed the experiences.
The book became one of the most famous chronicles of the struggle for change during the civil rights era.
“It was a very volatile situation having a white man photograph in a black neighborhood,” his wife of 61 years, Lucy Marie Rutledge, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Then in 1966, Mr. Rutledge joined his two loves and went to work for Home Missions magazine for the Southern Baptist Convention. He traveled to all 50 states over the next decade capturing moments of dedication and devotion of missionaries and others. He also produced three books during that time.
In 1980, he went to work as a photographer for Foreign Mission Board, where he continued his photo ministry, primarily for The Commission magazine, until his retirement in 1996.
Mr. Rutledge continued to do some freelance work in the U.S. and abroad until suffering a stroke in 2001.
“He taught me to see,” Dan Beatty, director of digital strategies for the Foreign Mission Board, told AP. “He taught me to see beneath the surface of a story and appreciate the people who are willing to let us into their lives in order to tell a story.”
Beatty described Mr. Rutledge as a “deeply compassionate” person with a great sense of humor.
Mr. Rutledge called his best photographs “windows on the soul,” and they reached millions in churches and missions. He also mentored hundreds of young photographers and writers, some of whom followed in his footsteps.
“I love photojournalism and enjoy using it as a worldwide Christian ministry,” he once wrote. “It forces me to see, to look beyond what the average person observes, to search where few people care even to look, to glance over and beyond my backyard fence.It gives my ‘seeing’ a newness and a freshness as I work to communicate the Christian messages I want to convey. It helps me translate the national and international ministries into human terms by telling the story through people rather than through statistics.”
His wife said Mr. Rutledge enjoyed what he did, but that he didn’t consider it work.
“His goal was to encourage Southern Baptists to give to missions, pray for missions and be missionaries on the field,” Lucy Rutledge said. “He preached with his photography to whoever would look at his photographs.”