WEST PALM BEACH, FL – Photojournalist Graeme Phelps "Flip" Schulke, who was well known for photographing America's Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as President John F. Kennedy and seven other presidents, Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, Jacques Cousteau, and hundreds of other high-profile politicians and celebrities, died today of congestive heart failure at Columbia Hospital. He was 77.
Schulke once told a business magazine in Minnesota that he had earned his nickname "Flip" on the trampoline while competing with the New Ulm, MN, high school gymnastics team.
Schulke's spent more than a decade covering the Civil Rights movement and his good friend, Dr. King, and his photographs filled three books: Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Documentary, Montgomery to Memphis (1976); King Remembered (1986); and He Had A Dream (1995).
His photograph of Coretta Scott King at her husband's funeral became one of Life magazine's famous covers on the April 19, 1968 issue.
Schulke's fourth wife, Donna Schulke, today told Kelly Wolfe at The Palm Beach Post, "I called him 'The Legend.' Flip believed in loving your work. He wasn't happy being retired." She told the Post that health problems had slowed the photographer in recent years, a man who was accustomed to traveling the world. "The story was important to him and the person was important to him," she told the newspaper.
Ironically, Schulke's name was in the news just today, on the very day that he died, because of a sculpture in China that is destined for the States that is based on a Schulke photograph of Dr. King.
Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin defended his design of a 28-foot statue of King today in Beijing in response to critics who said the depiction showed King as "too confrontational" and representative of work that "recalls a genre of political sculpture that has been pulled down in other countries." King's pose in the work, emerging from a block of granite called the "Mountain of Despair," is to be part of a privately-funded $100 million memorial that opens next year in Washington. It is based on one of Schulke's photographs that shows King with his arms crossed, his lips drawn.
Schulke met King in 1958 when he was sent to photograph him for Ebony magazine. As the story goes, after photographing King the two men, both in their early twenties, talked late into the night about King's philosophy of non-violence and the two men became friends. Schulke was invited by King into the "inner circle" of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where he documented many of the organization's efforts over the next ten years to bring segregation and racial integration to the United States.
Schulke also photographed the admission of the first black student, James Meredith, into the University of Mississippi. In an oral history that's online here, Schulke talked about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and about the protests and marches he covered, and the differences he sees between the youth of the 1960s and those of today.
During his six decade career the photographer also documented the Berlin Wall for more than 35 years, and he was one of the first photographers inside the Texas Book Depository in Dallas after the Kennedy assassination.
Schulke once told an interviewer that the reason he chose freelancing over being a staff photographer was so that he could retain ownership of his work and some control over where he lived and what he shot.
A National Press Photographers Association Life Member, Schulke joined the organization in June 1955.
In 1995, NPPA presented him with the Kodak Crystal Eagle Award for Impact in Photojournalism. In 1952 he won the title of College Photographer of the Year and part of the prize was attending a Missouri Photo Workshop, where the young photographer met many professional photojournalists and editors.
After graduating from Macalester College in St. Paul in 1954 he moved to Miami to teach and work as a freelance photojournalist. Because of news events in South Florida and Castro's revolution in Cuba, Life magazine opened a Miami bureau and Schulke and another photographer who became famous for his own Civil Rights photographs, Charles Moore, worked as Life's freelancers in the region. Segregation was a big ongoing story for Moore and Schulke at the time, and their photographs were in the world's spotlight.
Schulke was also renown for his underwater photography and the technological advances he made in underwater photo gear, along with his pictures of French oceanographer Cousteau and one of the photographer's other books, Underwater Photography for Everyone (1976).
Life magazine ran one of Schulke's photographs of Muhammad Ali in 1961 "training" underwater in a Miami swimming pool. Ali swore that the underwater workouts made him the fastest heavyweight in the world. But it was all a ruse on Ali's part for publicity; the boxer could not even swim.
In 2000, Schulke published the book Muhammad Ali: The Birth of a Legend, Miami, 1961-1964. The photographer housed his entire photographic archive of approximately a half million original photographs at the Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin.
Schulke moved to New Ulm, Minnesota, from Cornish, New Hampshire, when he was only 15 to live with his grandfather in the town where his family had founded a department store. Schulke was born June 24, 1930 and for the last 15 years he lived in West Palm Beach after retiring.
Schulke received a camera, a "Baby Brownie Special," when he was 15 and his first training in photography came in college, working for the school's yearbook and newspaper. He spent most of his professional career as a freelancer, represented by Howard Chapnick's famed Black Star Picture Agency, and shot assignments for Life magazine, National Geographic, Ebony, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, and Look.
Schulke is survived by four children, Robin Chisolm-Seymour, Paul Schulke, Lisa Davidson, and Maria Cohen. He is also survived by an older sister Roxy Kaufmann, of Bermuda.
A memorial service is being planned in Minnesota, and will be held in New Ulm in the upcoming weeks.