Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Eugene Richards in the Delta -- UPDATED

Eugene Richards, one of the most distinguished documentary photographers of our time, got his start photographing in the Arkansas side of the Mississippi Delta.

Richards developed this body of work while serving as a VISTA Volunteer in the early 1970's and published it in the book Few Comforts or Surprises: The Arkansas Delta, in 1973.

Richards has recently switched to color imagery and revisited the Delta. He plans to publish a book of this work in 2014, with the title Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down. 

Richards has a Kickstarter campaign going at present to fund this project. You can find it, and support it if you like, here.

Richards has published some of this work,  in the November 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.

You can still find the on-line version of his portfolio here. 

 What Richards sees on his return visit is change, and the challenge of, as he puts it, documenting "the disappearance of a way of life, to capture the delta that once was and isn’t today."

 "Nobody needs to tell me that nothing stays the same. Still, what did I do when I returned to the Arkansas Delta after 40 years? What everybody does who tries to return to what was once home: search for what they knew.

"The first couple of days I drove maybe 500 miles looking for sharecropper shacks. There used to be hundreds of them, painted white and raised up on concrete blocks. Now there’s not so much as a floorboard or a nail to mark where they were. It’s as if the Mississippi had overflowed and swept them all away."

This image of a pair of randomly-preserved sparkling red slippers Richards found on the porch of an abandoned house gets at some of the irony in this work.

It's somehow fitting that the photographer who would go on publish 15 books like Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue and to a whole slew of awards and fellowships for his uncompromising work among the desperate, the wounded, and the impoverished would get his start working in the Delta.

Eugene Richards is one of the finest photographers of our time. He certainly deserves to be regarded as an Honorary Southern Photographer.

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