The truth is that the image alone only tells half the story. To fully understand and appreciate any photograph, you must know something about the person standing behind the camera.
I was recently made aware of a phenomenal collection of historical photographs at the Jasper Public Library. These black and white scenes of Walker County in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s are much loved and have been widely circulated.
They have been published in books and magazines, hung in public buildings and developed into postcards and political advertisements.
However, the man who made this historical record possible — Luis Rushing — has never received the recognition he deserves.
With help from my friends at the library, I intend to change that.
I hope to share Mr. Rushing’s story (and his wonderful photographs, of course) in a variety of ways in the coming months.
Other than our ongoing coverage of tornado recovery, I haven’t felt this passionate about a project since “Journey Stories” in 2011. As then, I am driven by not only my love of local history but also a desire to give credit where it is long overdue.
I regret that Mr. Rushing is no longer alive to accept praise for his work.
I would have so many questions for him:
How did you get close enough to FDR to photograph him in the doorway of the church at Speaker Bankhead’s funeral?
What did you and Ernie Pyle talk about when he stopped in Jasper to get his car serviced?
Was there ever a shot that got away or one that you refused to sell because it was priceless?
Did you question your decision to capture Walker County in such a positive light for decades when you knew of its dark side as well?
I can only guess what Mr. Rushing’s answers would have been. I am just thankful that he left us with hundreds of photographic pieces of himself to remember him by.
It is also important to note that Mr. Rushing’s name and his body of work would have been lost to history if not for the local library system.
Mr. Rushing taught himself photography by devouring library books as a young man.
Toward the end of his life, he donated some of his most precious negatives to the Jasper library and its longtime director, Colleen Miller, in hopes that they would be preserved for future generations.
Miller’s successor, Sandra Underwood, is now leading the effort to make Mr. Rushing’s stunning images available online.
Mrs. Underwood and her son, Stephen, are also responsible for the bulk of the research that I will be using in my articles on Mr. Rushing.
As technology advances, there is a tendency to view libraries as outdated and useful only for free Internet access.
I realize now more than ever the important role that libraries play in our communities.
Books, photographs and newspaper stories may be applauded today and forgotten tomorrow. Only because of libraries is there the opportunity for them to be appreciated for years to come.