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Beloved Louisville Photojournalist Bud Dorsey Dies At 80

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

89.3 WFPL News Louisville · Beloved Louisville Photojournalist Bud Dorsey Dies At 80

Photojournalist Charles “Bud” Dorsey loved his hometown of Louisville, Ky. 

That’s what his eldest daughter, Kim Anderson, wants people to remember about her father, who died Thursday, “surrounded by lots of family,” at the age of 80.

“His whole purpose was to show the community of Louisville, the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “He loved the people in the community… And every photograph that he did was almost like a mirror to their soul.”

Anderson said the cause of death was cancer. 

With his camera, Dorsey documented life in Louisville’s West End for more than 50 years. 

He worked for two decades at the Louisville Defender, which began publishing in the 1930s, focusing on Black communities and issues. His captivating images have also appeared in publications such as JET magazine, Ebony and the Courier Journal. 

Anderson said her father had a passion and knack for photography from a young age. But his love for it deepened while serving in the U.S. Navy in the 1960s. 

“He didn't have the best of equipment, but he was able to use the equipment that he had to showcase so many events, so many people,” Anderson said. “Some things that we adapt are so deep in our hearts, and I think that was photography for him. It was more than a craft or something he picked up along the way. This was something that was deep and ingrained in him and he just loved it.”

“I like to be the fly on the wall,” Dorsey said in a Louisville Story Program video about his 2017 book, “Available Light.” 

“I just don't like posing people for some reason, I don't know, I’d rather catch you at who you really are.”

In that same video, civil rights leader Mattie Jones said Dorsey was a tenacious and unflinching photojournalist.

“Whenever the buses would move out going to where they were going to hold demonstrations, this man would be on the bus too… I know he was insulted, certain times that they would not recognize his press pass. But it didn't make any difference,” Jones said. “And I feel like that he knew that he was doing the work that would have never been documented if it hadn't been for a Black man.”

Dorsey’s work also highlighted the joy in west Louisville, showing how communities are multi-dimensional. 

“I read the [Courier-Journal] and I just wasn’t seeing enough of — being seen — the way I saw it, though my eyes,” he told WFPL in 2017. “The celebrations we used to have, the friendships, the fellowships, all of that was going on but really, the stigma was there even then, even like today, like the violence that’s going on, but there’s some good things happening in west Louisville. Good people are in west Louisville.”

Dorsey wanted to share his love for photography with others, particularly young Black people who expressed an interest in it. He wanted to help them succeed, Anderson said. 

“He loved the whole idea of mentoring,” she continued. 

Dorsey retired more than a decade ago, but that didn’t mean he put his cameras away.

“Yes he left his job to spend more time with his family, but there was never retirement with my dad,” Anderson said. “He was always into something where photography was concerned.”

"Bud never put his camera down," Courier Journal photojournalist Sam Upshaw Jr., who considered Dorsey a mentor, told the CJ. "Even after retirement, you could find him regularly covering the events of the day, including the recent Breonna Taylor protests and the impact of the coronavirus on the community... This is quite a bookend for someone who began his career covering the racial strife of the 1960s."

Dorsey was indeed a frequent presence at the racial justice protests and events happening throughout the city the past year. 

“This is not my first rodeo, been there, done that,” Dorsey told WFPL earlier this year, referencing his time documenting the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s, including the events that happened in the aftermath of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

“Big difference [about this last summer’s protests], as it stands out to me, is with the unity and collaboration of people from all walks of life,” Dorsey said.

“His presence was everywhere, you couldn’t go to any event in Louisville without seeing his camera,” Louisville activist Israel McCullough said. “We’ve got to continue his legacy of capturing the moment through pictures… we’ve got to stand on the shoulders of Bud Dorsey.”

Kim Anderson said that, despite all of her father’s accomplishments and accolades, he never sacrificed family for his career. He always prioritized his four children, raising them mostly on his own. 

“He is our hero,” Anderson said.  

She’ll think about her dad every time she takes a picture. That might be why she found herself picking up a camera Thursday after his death. 

“He did this thing called the ‘walkabout,’ and he walks and he’d photograph, this was after retirement coolest, everything from ducks, to trees, and all of those things,” Anderson said. “That has carried with me. So yesterday, in his honor, I did a walkabout as well, and shot some photographs.”

Yasmine Jumaa contributed to this story.