In 1956, when portrait photographer Russ Busby of Oklahoma City saw advertisements that the Billy Graham Crusade was coming to town, he had two responses.
First, he would attend the event; and, second, the Crusade needed better pictures. He found out which hotel Crusade leaders were staying in and took some samples of his work to them. He wound up photographing the Crusade for two days and being invited to join the ministry.
At first, he was asked to assist a layout artist at the Minneapolis headquarters. But it wasn’t long before he was back behind the lens.
“I realized at the outset that God did not need my talents, he wanted my life,” Busby told The Oklahoman in 1983. “When I learned that lesson, He put me back with a camera.”
Busby went on to travel with Mr. Graham for six decades, photographing him with everybody from presidents and kings to survivors of natural disasters. At one point, President Lyndon B. Johnson offered Busby a job as the official White House photographer, but he declined, saying he felt called to serve the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).
Busby retired from BGEA in 2012 and passed away Nov. 14, 2017, at his son’s home in California, following a long illness. He was 86.
“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,” said Franklin Graham, who was just 4 years old when Busby began working with the ministry.
“Russ was wiry and never ceased to maneuver himself to capture just the right shot,” Franklin said. “Hardly ever was he seen without a camera strapped around his neck.”
Busby’s images of Graham speaking to hundreds of thousands of spiritually hungry people have become iconic, particularly his 1973 shot of more than one 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.
His 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. Photojournalist Bob Carey, who chairs the department of communication and news media at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, found Busby to be helpful and genuine.
“Russ was always helpful when I was assigned to shoot photos of Dr. Graham,” Carey told Baptist Press. “He went out of his way to make sure I got the picture I needed. 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 afterward gave input into their images.”
Busby was preceded in death by his wife of more than 50 years, Doris; his son Bruce; and his daughter Carolyn. He leaves behind his son Dan, his daughter Becky, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.