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Richards, Eugene 1944-

RICHARDS, Eugene 1944-

PERSONAL: Born April 25, 1944, in Dorchester, MA; married Dorothea Lynch (a reporter; died, 1983); married Janine Altongy (a writer, video editor, and documentary film producer). Education: Northeastern University, B.A., 1967; graduate study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


ADDRESSES: Offıce—Many Voices, 472 13th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215-5207. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Aperture, 20 E. 23rd St., New York, NY 10010.


CAREER: Photojournalist, director, and publisher. Art Institute of Boston, Boston, MA, instructor of photography, 1974-76; Union College, Schenectady, NY, instructor of photography, 1977; Maine Photo Workshop, Rockport, ME, artist in residence, 1977-78; International Center of Photography, New York, NY, artist in residence, 1978-79; Many Voices, Brooklyn, NY, codirector. Work exhibited in various galleries and museums, including Museum of Modern Art, International Center of Photography, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Addison Gallery of American Art, and J. B. Speed Art Museum. Work included in various exhibitions, including We the People, 1975, and Fourteen New England Photographers, 1978. Also VISTA volunteer, 1968, and cofounder of RESPECT, Inc., a private social agency providing food and clothing to the West Memphis black community.


AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Arts grants, 1974, 1980; Massachusetts Artists Foundation grant, 1978; Massachusetts Artists Foundation fellowship, 1979; Guggenheim fellowship in photography, 1980; Book of the Year Award, Nikon, 1986, for Exploding into Life; Infinity Award for outstanding accomplishment in photographic reporting, International Center of Photography, 1987, for Below the Line: Living Poor in America; Canon Photo Essay Award, National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), 1989; award of excellence, American College of Emergency Physicians, 1989, for The Knife and Gun Club: Scenes from an Emergency Room; Leica Medal of Excellence, 1990, for series of photographs on drug abuse in Philadelphia; Kraszna-Krausz Award for Photogenic Innovation, 1994, for Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue; Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation fellowship, 1997; Best Short Film, DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival, Best Documentary Award, Hope Film Festival, and Eastman Kodak Cinematographer Award, 2000, all for but, the day came; NPPA/Nikkon Documentary Sabbatical, 2002; Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, Carter Center, 2002-03.


WRITINGS:

AUTHOR AND PHOTOGRAPHER

Few Comforts or Surprises: The Arkansas Delta, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1973.

Dorchester Days, Many Voices Press (Wollaston, MA), 1978, revised edition, Phaidon Press (New York, NY), 2001.

(With Dorothea Lynch) Exploding into Life, Aperture (New York, NY), 1986.

Below the Line: Living Poor in America, Consumer Reports Books (Mount Vernon, NY), 1988.

The Knife and Gun Club: Scenes from an Emergency Room, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Edward Barnes and Danny J.) Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue, Aperture (New York, NY), 1994.

Americans We: Photographs and Notes, Aperture (New York, NY), 1994.

The Fat Baby (collection of photographs and articles), Phaidon Press (Boston, MA), 2004.



OTHER

(Photographer) Janine Altongy, Stepping through the Ashes, Aperature (New York, NY), 2002.


Also author, director, and coproducer of the documentary film but, the day came, 2000. Contributor of photographs to periodicals, including Geo, Life, and New York Times Magazine. Contributor of photographs to books, including Photographer's Choice, Addison House (Reading, MA), 1976; Family of Children, Ridge Press, 1977; and Family of Women, Ridge Press, 1978.


SIDELIGHTS: Eugene Richards is a respected photographer who seems himself in the tradition of such esteemed photorealists as Robert Frank and Gene Smith. "Sometimes I look at their photographs and wonder why I even bother to try," Richards told Joe Novak in a 1980 Photographic profile. "At other times I feel them riding along with me."

Richards began his photography career in the early 1970s, after studying under photographer Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After leaving MIT, Richards worked as a VISTA volunteer in Arkansas, where he often ran afoul of his community's authorities. After having suffered beatings, Richards finally left the Arkansas Delta in 1973 and returned to his hometown of Dorchester, Massachusetts. There, he produced Few Comforts or Surprises: The Arkansas Delta, which garnered positive reviews from critics. Among the book's enthusiasts was Commonweal reviewer Todd Gitlin, who wrote, "Without political pointers to the future, we are left with the raw present, the terror and the pity of it. Richards's photographs have that eloquence which insists on the present."


Following the publication of Few Comforts or Surprises, he decided to photograph Dorchester, the city he grew up in, and its inhabitants. An influx of immigrants had altered the population since Richards's boyhood days, making him neither an insider nor an outsider to the working-class neighborhood. His efforts resulted in Dorchester Days, first published in 1978. The collection earned Richards further praise for his ability to capture the grim and disturbing aspects of everyday life. Julia Scully, writing in Modern Photography, noted that Richards employs some unlikely, idiosyncratic techniques—including blurred focus and awkward framing—to more graphically render his subjects. Through such devices, noted Scully, Richards "emphasizes the sense of craziness, of danger, of a world falling apart." Dorchester Days was republished in 2001 with additional images. "Artful touches, like text written in the photographer's own hand, have also been added," explained Rosemary Ranck in a review of the new edition for the New York Times Book Review. Ranck concluded, "The result is a book that is much more accessible to contemporary readers."


In the ensuing years, Richards continued to focus on life's tragic aspects. In 1986, he completed Exploding into Life, a collection of photos detailing the course of his wife Dorothea Lynch's ultimately fatal bout with breast cancer. Included in this volume are pictures of Lynch's disfigured torso, as well as a shot of Lynch vomiting from the effects of chemotherapy. Despite the grim and despairing nature of these photos, Richards described the project as a positive experience. "I had a great time making those photos," Richards related to American Photographer in 1989, "They're awful pictures, but it was a strangely joyous collaboration."


Richards's next volume is Below the Line: Living Poor in America, which appeared in 1988. In this stark photo-essay, Richards includes interviews with some of the poor that he photographed. The following year, Richards published The Knife and Gun Club: Scenes from an Emergency Room. "This," cautioned People reviewer Ralph Nowak, "is no book for the squeamish." Likewise, Sandra G. Boodman affirmed in the Washington Post that The Knife and Gun Club "is not a coffee-table book." Boodman described Richards's work as a "kaleidoscope of stark, sometimes brutally graphic, images."


Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue documents the catastrophic impact of this highly addictive narcotic in America's urban northeast. Brent Staples, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called Richards's book "a record of the carnage as it is carried out" in various urban areas, and deemed Richards "a master of the brutal image."


In 1994, Richards completed Americans We: Photographs and Notes, a photograph collection devoted to the more arduous aspects of life in the United States. The volume includes images of violence and suffering, and it details the hardships endured by the increasing numbers of Americans living in poverty. Accompanying Richards's photographs are his own comments and observations on the photographs.


Richards and second wife, Janine Altongy, published Stepping through the Ashes in time for the one-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The book is a collection of powerful images of the days following the destruction of the World Trade Center. Richards was visiting Budapest at the time of the attacks and could not get home for several days. In an article published on the National Press Photographers Association Web site, Richards explained how he felt once back in the United States: "I really just wanted to stay home. I was very troubled by what I saw coming, a war, more violence, a major change in the values of our country. I couldn't just look across the river and see what was once there."

To compose Stepping through the Ashes, Altongy interviewed survivors and relatives of victims while Richards snapped shots from nearby buildings and streets, since the husband and wife were only allowed into Ground Zero twice. "We saw the site not just as a place of horror, but as a tremendous cemetery," Richards explained. Critics praised Richards and Altongy for viewing the devastation in this way. "His photos from the scene, filtered through shafts of dust, are murky, hellish, disorienting," observed Michael More in a review of the book for the Albuquerque Journal. Vince Passaro, writing in O, The Oprah Magazine, expressed similar sentiments, observing, "The photos are a smoky black-and-white, composed with eerie stillness, perfectly reflecting the paralyzed grief of the city." Passaro concluded that Stepping through the Ashes "may be the best photo book of those hard days."


BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Bowden, Charles, Eugene Richards, Phaidon Press (New York, NY), 2001.


PERIODICALS

Albuquerque Journal, September 6, 2002, Michael More, "9-11 Book Steps Lightly," p. 5.

American Photographer, November, 1989, pp. 36-49, 71-72.

Commonweal, November 30, 1973, Todd Gitlin, review of Few Comforts or Surprises: The Arkansas Delta, pp. 242-244.

Modern Photography, June 9, 1979, Julia Scully, review of Dorchester Days, pp. 9, 15, 178, 196.

New York Times Book Review, February 6, 1994, Brent Staples, review of Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue, pp. 11-12; August 19, 2001, Rosemary Ranck, review of Dorchester Days, p. 16.

O, The Oprah Magazine, September, 2002, Vince Passaro, review of Stepping through the Ashes, p. 102.

People, June 12, 1989, Ralph Nowak, review of The Knife and Gun Club: Scenes from an Emergency Room, p. 33.

Photographic, August, 1980, p. 19.

Publishers Weekly, August 26, 2002, review of Stepping through the Ashes, p. 53.

Washington Post, February 27, 1990, Sandra G. Boodman, review of The Knife and Gun Club, p. Z17; April 10, 1994, G4.

ONLINE

National Press Photographers Association Web site,http://www.nppa.org/ (January 16, 2003), Margot Carmichael Lester, "Stepping through the Ashes: A Profile of Eugene Richards, winner of the 2002 Nikon Documentary Sabbatical."*

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