Don Rutledge, 1930 − 2013
When Don Rutledge sought to document poverty in America in 1979 for the Southern Baptist Convention’s (then) Home Mission Board, he could have settled for the kind of quick-hit coverage that’s all too easy to find in the nation’s poorer regions. All it takes are a few shots of poor living conditions. But instead of exploit, Don chose to explore. He spent three weeks with Bailey and Luvenia King, a rural Mississippi couple who had fought a losing battle with poverty for decades.
It was the middle of the fourth quarter, and it had been sleeting heavily for almost two hours. I was dressed warmly enough as I stood on the sidelines of the football field at William Monroe High School, but I had forgotten to bring a hat or gloves. My glasses were soaked, and the eyepiece of my camera had fogged up; the players were mere blobs in the viewfinder. My hands had grown so cold that I could no longer use my left thumb. If that happened on the right hand, I would not be able operate the autofocus function on my camera. So between each play, I sucked my thumb to keep it warm.
Among shooters a generation ago, to be a wedding photographer was low on the food chain, not too far above something like yearbook portraits. But today, some truly great work is being done at weddings as photographers search for solutions amid the uncertain marketplace.
At one newspaper many years ago, photographers were up in arms at the prospect of being asked to shoot video. Now, people are taking classes at their own expense to develop their video skills.
Things are changing. What was once distasteful is now accepted. But in another significant way, what was once accepted has become distasteful.
God had answered my prayer: I had my dream job — on the staff of The Commission, the International Mission Board’s groundbreaking photojournalism magazine. In my heart I knew that God had placed me there. Yet, after five exceptional years, I was laid off in the wake of a bad economy. If God had called me there, was He saying goodbye?
It would take many years and many tears before I would understand that God wasn’t kicking me out. He needed to teach me some things other than just how to make photos. The lessons are never that direct. But God is patient. He has more time than we think we do.
It’s possible that nearly every photojournalist is thinking about one thing. The impact of the downturn in the media world goes far beyond the cyclical effects of a nasty recession. Like the tired “perfect storm” platitude, the corrosive symptoms of a severe economic downturn are combining with deeper trends in media that show no sign of going away. Today, everyone is worried.
“People are hurting right now,” says Gary Fong, president of CIP. “A lot of people don’t know what to do. But there are others who are seeing God’s hand working.”
When Barry Gutierrez heard the news, he got into his car and started driving east. The trip to Denver would take more than 12 hours, but it hardly mattered. His newspaper just made the announcement he had feared for months: The Rocky Mountain News was closing its doors. The next day’s edition would be its last.
A photographer with “the Rocky” for more than a decade, Gutierrez was returning from a family trip to California when the news broke.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
— Ephesians 2:8-10
Is Mother Teresa good enough? How about Billy Graham? What about you?
My dad was a hard-working immigrant who didn’t drink, smoke or cuss. He raised four kids and was faithful to his wife. “I’m good enough,” he would retort when I challenged him to become a Christian. Like most men and women, he thought all the good things he did would outweigh his occasional lapses.
The very first issue of the Christians in Photojournalism newsletter began with an anecdote that defines the fundamental purpose of the organization.
I was a young photographer, fresh out of college, shooting for The San Bernardino Sun in Southern California. As I recall, the afternoon’s assignment had something to do with kidney dialysis — not an occasion to hone one’s peak-action skills as a photographer.
“Excuse me,” accompanied a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around to discover a big smile attached to a little nurse. “I couldn’t help but notice the cross you are wearing. Are you … are you a Christian?” More surprised than embarrassed, I managed to aw-shucks a reply. Yes, yes, you bet. I am a Christian. She was very happy with my answer.
The first issue
When CIP founders Gary Fong and Greg Schneider met in 1978:
“It was so encouraging just to know that there was at least one other newspaper photographer out there who shared my faith in Jesus,” Schneider explained. “Before meeting Gary, I didn’t know any other Christian photojournalists and, frankly, it was really difficult because the newspaper business is sort of hard-boiled, with a lot of cynics. So I took some abuse for my faith in the Lord.”