Film stars man who captured history with lens

Flip Shulke, a photographer during the 1960s, donated a digital archive to the university. It includes photos such as a Life magazine cover photo of Coretta Scott King taken at her husband’s funeral.

by Emily Landgraf

The work of Flip Shulke, a photojournalist who donated a digital archive of his work to Rider, will be the focus of a documentary produced by communication professor Shawn Kildea’s field production class this year. Snapshots of a Movement will focus on Shulke’s work during the Civil Rights Movement.

During the 1960s, Shulke took hundreds of photographs of the movement. He captured countless demonstrations, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Shulke’s documentation of the Civil Rights Movement helped average Americans get a better sense of how the movement and the brutality with which blacks were often treated.

Shulke knew many of the leaders of the movement very well, including King, who told Shulke that the best way to help the movement was to document it.

“Shulke was the only photographer who was invited to the house to take photos after King died,” Kildea, the executive producer of the documentary, said. “Coretta Scott King called him up because she knew her husband wanted this stuff documented.”

Shulke was also the only photographer allowed in the home of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was shot and killed in 1963, for his funeral. Evers’ wife, Myrlie Evers, was wary of journalists at first, Kildea said. Despite this, she noticed something about Shulke that she later wrote about.

“I turned and the Life photographer was there,” she wrote. “His eyes were filled with tears. For the first time, the hatred I had felt for all whites was gone. It never returned.”

Patty Wittenburg, a senior communication major in the radio and TV track, is producing this documentary as an independent study. Wittenburg has been working on the documentary since May, when the pre-production work began. This is her second documentary.

“It’s been a great experience working on this,” Wittenburg said.

Kildea and Wittenburg said the class is working with the University of Texas at Austin and Donna Shulke, Flip Shulke’s ex-wife, to procure the high-resolution photographs that they need for the documentary.

“Everything is being shot in high definition,” Kildea said.

The class will be interviewing civil rights activists and leaders for the documentary. According to Kildea, the best interview they could get would be with Myrlie Evers. However, her whereabouts are unclear. She is most likely in California, Kildea said, but it would not be possible to make that trip. Instead, the class would connect with a university in California to see if its students could collaborate with Rider and shoot the interview.

Shulke was not only a Civil Rights Movement photojournalist, but also did extensive work covering the career of Muhammad Ali and the history of the Berlin wall. He was a pioneer in both underwater and space photography. In fact, Shulke has an international reputation when it comes to the former because he pioneered much of the technology used in the field today. He created the dome ports that are now used in the industry. These domes eliminate most of the distortion produced by the wide-angle lenses used at that time.

Shulke passed away in Florida this past May, just before the pre-production work really got started. The class will have many people to interview, though, because Shulke worked so closely with various activists from the Civil Rights Movement. Shulke left Rider University a digital archive, so that the students will be able to use his historic photographs.

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