Monday, April 28, 2014

Eugene Richards Held Over

Notes from the the Museum's curator, Janie Welker

 The Eugene Richards photography exhibition has been held over until May 18.

EUGENE RICHARDS, Wounded Veteran at Home with His Daughter,
from the War is Personal series, 2006/2010. On loan from the artist.

EUGENE RICHARDS, Tomas After an Accidental Overdose
from the War is Personal series, 2006/2010. On loan from the artist.
Intensely personal and deeply felt, the photography of Eugene Richards reflects both a profound compassion for humanity and a lifelong commitment to social activism, whether his subject is the ravages of cocaine addiction, his first wife’s struggle with breast cancer, or the emotional aftermath of 9/11.

A conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, Richards joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) in 1968 and found himself working in a community service organization in eastern Arkansas. Running afoul of the Ku Klux Klan earned him a serious beating and numerous threats, but he left Arkansas with a series of haunting photographs of rural poverty that launched his career. For seventeen years, he traveled the world as a photojournalist for the agency Magnum Photo and now focuses on his own projects.

This exhibition features selections from two recent series: War is Personal, which examines the ongoing effects of the Iraq war on soldiers and their families, and The Blue Room, elegiac photographs of abandoned houses and farms he found in the center of the country, from New Mexico to North Dakota.

In War is Personal, Richards examines the human cost of the Iraq war, “what it means to go to war, to fight, to wait, to mourn, to remember, to live on when those you love are gone.” He quietly enters the lives of fifteen families who are dealing with loss, either through death or because those who returned are irrevocably changed. His book of the series contains not only photographs but essays in which he largely lets his subjects speak for themselves.

In The Blue Room, Richards examines the human experience in a very different way. Traveling through the country over a period of more than three years, he sifted through the relics of the lives once lived within now-deserted homes, finding traces of once happy families or of those who had to decamp quickly, possibly fleeing the law. “I'm not a religious person, but I find abandoned houses more spiritual than churches,” he says. “Maybe it's because they're very quiet. When you're inside, all you can hear is the wind blowing.”
Among numerous honors, Richards has won a Guggenheim Fellowship, three National Endowment for the Arts grants, the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Award, the National Geographic Magazine Grant for Photography, the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography, the Amnesty International Media Award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Journalism Award for coverage of the disadvantaged. His film But, the day came, which chronicles the passage of an elderly Nebraska farmer to a nursing home, received the Best Short Film award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. His photography books have won numerous awards, and the books Dorchester Days and Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue were chosen for inclusion in the catalogue and international traveling exhibition The Open Book: A History of the Photographic Book from 1878 to the Present.

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