CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Russ Busby, who traveled the world as evangelist Billy Graham’s photographer for six decades, died Nov. 14 at his son’s home in California following a long illness. He was 86.
Busby joined the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1956 after a crusade in Oklahoma City. He managed a local photography studio and saw some advertisements about the event. After hearing Graham preach, he tracked down the team in their hotel to show them samples of his work. He photographed the crusade for two days and soon was part of the ministry, traveling to dozens of countries over the ensuing decades as he photographed Graham with everybody from presidents and kings to survivors of natural disasters.
Graham’s son Franklin, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse who was just 4 years old when Busby began working with the crusade ministry, said Busby “traveled all around the world with my father, taking countless historic shots, and continued to provide photography for ministry events and my crusades even after my father was no longer able to travel.
“Russ was a valued member of the team and a wonderful friend of the family,” Franklin Graham said. “Anyone who had the privilege of meeting Russ Busby was lightened by his humor, captured by his love for people, and most of all touched by his devotion to his Savior Jesus Christ.”
Busby’s images of Graham speaking to hundreds of thousands of people have become iconic, particularly his 1973 shot of more than a million people in Seoul, South Korea, the largest one-day attendance in Graham’s crusade ministry, and his 1985 pictures of people filling the streets and perched atop buildings as Graham preached the Gospel behind the Iron Curtain in Romania.
“Russ was wiry and never ceased to maneuver himself to capture just the right shot,” Franklin Graham said. “Hardly ever was he seen without a camera strapped around his neck.”
“I’ve seen most of the world with one eye closed,” Busby once said.
Busby’s pictures have been used on the covers of books, magazines and newspapers around the world. His lasting impact can be seen in “Billy Graham: God’s Ambassador,” his collection of images first released in 1999.
“The legacy of Russ Busby is cherished in our hearts and memories. He will be missed but never forgotten,” Franklin Graham said.
Baptist photojournalists were appreciative of Busby’s helpfulness and genuineness. And, as photojournalism professor Bob Carey put it, “He was a great Christian communicator.”
Carey, who chairs the department of communication and new media at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, recounted, “Russ was always helpful when I was assigned to shoot photos of Dr. Graham. He went out of his way to make sure I got the picture I needed. When Dr. Graham spoke at the SBC in Atlanta, I was on the platform to shoot and Russ made sure I didn’t have any problems getting my picture.
“When I took my students to cover [Billy Graham grandson] William Graham’s first U.S. crusade, Russ met with them, gave them ideas and afterwards gave input into their images,” Carey told Baptist Press.
Retired photojournalist Bill Bangham, who had served as International Mission Board editor-in-chief of theCOMMISSION and CommissionStories magazines, noted, “The work of Russ Busby will take on increasing significance with the passage of time. Graham is not just a Southern Baptist, he is a historic figure. Russ’s images will illuminate that life and ministry as historians look back on it through the coming decades.”
Bangham said he has “fond memories of sharing an assignment with Russ photographing Graham in the green room at the 1986 Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta. He was a gracious and humble man, intent on his calling, and a delight to know.”
Blair Carlson, who served as Billy Graham’s international crusade director, said Busby had “a great sensitivity to God” and “could sense the atmosphere of the situation. He knew the power of photographs and the importance of documenting things, and he was absolutely superb in that. But it was balanced by a great sense that if it was a sensitive moment or Mr. Graham was praying with someone or something like that, he would stay out of the way.”
Busby once declined an offer from President Lyndon Johnson to be the official photographer at White House, choosing to remain with the Graham ministry.
Busby was preceded in death by his wife of more than 50 years, Doris, in 2003, his son Bruce and his daughter Carolyn. He is survived by his son Dan, his daughter Becky and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending at this time.