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The Life and Work of Eugene Richards, an American Photographer

By Edited Apr 6, 2014 0 0

War Is Personal
Credit: amazon.com

              Eugene Richards is a critically acclaimed photographer who focuses his work on highlighting the human plight in several different areas.   He captures his images mostly in black and white, and focuses on natural portraiture photography.  Richards presents the human condition in all of its’ unfiltered harshness.   He is perhaps most well-known for his 16 documentarian books.  His 3 of his more famous books are The Blue Room (Phaidon, 2008), A Procession of Them (University Of Texas Press, 2008), and War Is Personal (Many Voices Press, 2010).  

              The Blue Room is a series of photographs of abandoned houses in rural America.  This is Eugene Richard's first book that was in color.  There has been a trend in American Photography to photograph the vestiges of rural America that have since gone by the wayside with the increasing trend of suburbanization that continues to advance.  Unlike his more typical, biographical in-your-face works, this book shows a softer, more poetic side of Richards.

              A Procession of Them is about the plight of the mentally ill. Traveling to countried around the world, Richards documents the terrible conditions of the institutionalized mentally ill.   With this book, he really brought the human-right issues that were at play to light.  Many of the people in these institutions were being denied even the most basic standard of care because of their societal status.  There is also a DVD that accompanies this work.

              And finally, War is Personal is a visually astonishing book about the very human impacts of the war in Iraq. An incredible poingant and moving work, this book brings war home.  American wars, though they may be fought on foreign soil such as the Iraqi war, still become very close to home for the soldiers and their families.  War is Personal photographically chronicles the personal stories of people whose lives were turned upside down and inside out by war.

                Richards was born in 1944 in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  He went to Northeastern University and attained a degree in English and journalism. [1]    He subsequently studied Photography at MIT under photographer Minor White.

              In 1968, he desired to avoid being drafted into the military for the Vietnam War.  As a compromise that resulted in avoiding serving in the armed forces, he was offered work in the VISTA,Volunteers in Service to America, which was a program created by the federal government to help combat the poverty levels in the United States.  He was sent to rural Arkansas where the poverty is an extreme problem.  It was during his time there that he discovered his true passion as a social documentarian, and he worked to bring the conditions in the delta of Arkansas to light. The book  Few Comforts or Surprises: The Arkansas Delta was the result of his time there.

                After his time of service in the impoverished society of the Arkansas delta, Ricahrds returned to his hometown of Dorchester, MA.  There he became aware of the urban/suburban brewing in his local area.  He self-published his book entitled Dorchester Days as a result of his time there.  After these 2 books were published, Eugene Richards began to work increasingly as a freelance photographer for newspapers and magazines.  He worked on many different social-interest topics such as drugs, death, AIDS, and poverty during this time.

            Richards has received numerous awards for his photography including three National Endowment for the Arts grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship,  three Canon Photo Essayist Awards, the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Journalism Award.  He has also published numerous books and been featured in countless publications around the world.  Also to be noted is his work with human rights organizations, where he uses his photographic talent to bring to light many basic rights issues that were undiscovered by Americans at large.

          Eugene Richard's style is one of biographical photojournalism with an in-you-face edginess. His images are typically shot close up, in black and white film, and feature all the nitty gritty details that would normally cause one to turn away or avert their eyes.  The lighting is sometimes soft, and sometimes hard, but always gives the focus of the image depth and soul.  I think that is one of the goals of the photographer, especially in his potographic human rights work: he desires to make us see the plight of humanity, whether it be from drugs, war, AIDS, or hunger.

      

War is Personal
Amazon Price: $214.99 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 6, 2014)

One image typical to Richard's work is a black and white portrait taken by Eugene Richards and published in his book Below the Line: Living Poor in America.  The description of the photo is that this is a man that has just returned from prison, and is being embraced by a family member after his long stint away from home.  The way that Richards has been able to capture the emotion in this moment is truly stunning.  The light glistening on the tears on the man’s cheeks,  the sad, grim determination of his eyes, and the gleaming of the grey hairs on his head truly communicate the gravity of this social issue:  the incarceration rate of the impoverished in America.

           Another second image that is typical to Richard's photographic style is entitled Child and mother with AIDS, Safo, Niger, 1997.  This image is from Richards’ book The Fat Baby.  This photograph is very in-line with is signature style. It is an image of a mother holding her child in the AIDS-ravaged Africa.  The woman is holding an emaciated baby up to her cheek, staring hoplessly off into the distance. His work forces you to look at things that would normally cause you to turn away.  The shadows cast from the protruding ribs of the child evoke the pain and suffering of the pediatric AIDS plight in Africa.  The hopelessness in the eyes of the mother pierces right to my very soul.  These examples show that art like photography can actually make a difference by bringing things to light that people would otherwise prefer to ignore.

      I hope you have enjoyed this article on the prolific work of Eugene Richards, an American artist.  I know that he will go down in history as one of the greats of his time.

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Bibliography

  1. Sudest "Eugene Richards Biography." sudest57.com. 5/12/2012 <Web >

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