Dana Funk Photojournalism Eugene Richards October 6, 2008
Many people slow down near traffic accidents, but not to stop to help or see if
anyone is injured. Many others are addicted to popular shows like CSI and Fringe, not necessarily for the story line with a happy ending. The gruesome and horrific details in life sometimes seem to be our biggest and juiciest guilty pleasures. Eugene Richards is known for his most unpleasant of scenes that many would never choose to see, but once they do, they are happy they did.
Born in 1944 in Dorchester, Mass., Richards earned his degree in English and
Journalism from Northeastern University. Shortly thereafter, he traveled to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he gained his Masters under the supervision of Minor White (Richards, 2008).
Richards comes face to face with the worst conditions in the world, hoping to
raise awareness about the personal plight of individuals in today’s society. During the 1960s, he was a civil rights activist and VISTA volunteer. In that time, he helped found a community newspaper entitled Many Voices, which reported on black political action and the violence of the Ku Klux Klan (Richards, 2008). His work as a health advocate in eastern Arkansas sparked his first major photo‐essay, Few Comforts or Surprises: The Arkansas Delta (Richards, 2000).
After struggling for a few years, Richards returned home to the
neighborhood he once escaped to be a social worker and activist. Dorchester is where he began photographing‐anything and everything that was right in front of him. He was broke and a novice player on the photography field but felt the need to capture the dramatic events in his very own hometown. In his photography, “a tear comes as big as a fingernail. Faces fly apart with grief and loss and separation – are
caught at the corners of images like afterthoughts. Mothers at one edge, children at the opposite, with whole lifetimes between” (Richards, 2000). Many may think that photographing the pleasant and happy is most appealing, but Richard’s collection of photography shows some of the most ghastly and heart wrenching scenes that no one can even begin to imagine. Despite the gore, disgust and extremely fatal emotion that one may feel when seeing his black and white photography, there is insurmountable truth behind each and every piece. Each photograph creates a story in a world that never seemed to exist. An entire lifetime shines through the colorless photos, and the plight of each person in it is far greater than someone’s worst nightmare and burden with no release. It is reality. The racially charged area where Richards was originally from provides some of his greatest work. “After a third glass of wine Gene begins to talk. About neighbors. Closed doors. Closed minds. Home” (Richards, 2000). Known for his socially aware documentary photographs, Richards pictures are personal and real. From Kennedy controversy to racial riots, Eugene Richards was never afraid to tell the truth through his camera. His photos detail America’s life in a surreal and emotional way. They are not always happy or content, but worrisome, angry and provocative. Americans We takes you on a detailed journey of Richards’ adventures. An elderly woman lies on her death bed saying her last good‐bye; a Marine returning home to North Carolina‐ scarred and tired; and a drug house in East New York depict scenes that we know exist, but could never picture ourselves up close and personal as we can through Richard’s camera lens.
4 Among several awards and honors, Richards has both written and directed
films. One example, But, the day came was named Best Short Film at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (National Geographic). He is not only a great photographer and filmmaker, but Richards might even be most popular for his writing, especially for his authorship of Cocaine True Cocaine Blue. This book focuses on the impact of crack cocaine in three eastern cities: North Philadelphia, Harlem, and Red Hook, New Jersey. It received the Kraszna‐Krausz Award for Photographic Innovation in Books (Photographer: Eugene Richards). Furthermore, Richards wrote Exploding Into Life, a book about his first wife’s battle with breast cancer. It received Nikon’s book of the year award (Richards 2008).
The Museum of Contemporary Photography says that, “Richards might be
thought of as a soldier with a camera, coming face to face with the difficult and the deadly: poverty in Arkansas, racial violence, political refugees, the drug culture of North Philadelphia, the criminally insane, the experiences of cancer patients.” Currently residing in New York, Richards continues to embrace the emotional road of individual’s personal lives. He has paved the way for many upcoming photographers and is recognized by many awards and kudos. He has won the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, three National Endowment for the Arts grants, the Leica Medal of Excellence, three Canon Photo Essayist Awards, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Journalism Award for coverage of the disadvantaged, among many others (Richards, 2008).
"Photographer: Eugene Richards." National Geographic. 2008. 29 Sept. 2008 <http://http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photogra phers/photographer‐eugene‐richards.html>. Richards, Eugene. Americans We. 1st ed. Danbury: Aperture Foundation, Incorporated, 1994. 1‐123. Richards, Eugene. Dorchester Days. New York: Phaidon P, 2000. 1‐108. Richards, Sam, ed. "Eugene Richards." Bio & Contact. 2008. 1 Oct. 2008 <http://www.eugenerichards.com>.