Daniel J Vance

Occasionally, I feature famous people. Although likely not recognizing the name of Flip Schulke of West Palm Beach, Florida, you certainly would recognize his photographs. He is one of America’s greatest photographers.

You’ve seen in Life, Time, National Geographic and other magazines his creative photographs of U.S. presidents, Elvis, astronauts, Dr. Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, Jacques Cousteau, and hundreds of others. He had eight cover photos for Life alone, and worked from 1955 to the 1980s.

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‘I have a list of names two pages long of people I photographed, and you would recognize every one of the names,’ said 77-year-old Schulke in a telephone interview. ‘I was a free-lance photojournalist covering current events.’

Schulke has a mobility disability, one having its roots in 1965. ‘I started having pains in my legs at about age thirty-five and that turned out to be two ruptured discs,’ he said. ‘The Miami Dolphins team surgeon ‘glued’ two of my vertebrae together and within a month I was in Australia shooting for a book on the Great Barrier Reef.’

Over the next twenty-five years, the leg pain would partially return after strenuous work, and he informally treated the pain himself by soaking in a hot tub.

In the early ’90s, he started taking a cholesterol-reducing drug, which its manufacturer today cautions people against taking in conjunction with certain drugs and when having muscle pain. Schulke already had the muscle pain when a doctor mistakenly prescribed one of the cautioned drugs.

‘I couldn’t walk,’ said Schulke of his mobility after taking the second drug. ‘Even now I can stand up only about thirty minutes before my spine just collapses.’ Today, he uses an electric ‘cart’ when shopping.

In 2002, doctors at a major medical center confirmed his pain was caused by mixing the cholesterol-reducing drug with another drug.

Said Schulke, ‘I was active my whole life and skinny because I was on my feet working. Now I have put on weight because I can’t exercise the way I did.’ However, he has been able to continue scuba diving with help from friends. Besides the disability caused by the drug mixture, he was diagnosed with diabetes in 2000.

Schulke has the largest privately owned collection of U.S. civil rights-era photographs in the world and has archives at the University of Texas and Macalester College.

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