Saturday, February 13, 2010

Eugene Richards











Went to the Gage Gallery Thursday night to see the opening exhibition for Eugene Richards photographs:
A Procession of Them: The Plight of the Mentally Disabled

The images are powerful. Taken in Mexico and Paraguay at institutions for the mentally disabled, Richards shows the shocking conditions people of the aforementioned nature are thrown in. There are puddles of urine and patients lying in their own filth. At some of these institutions there may be one attendant for a least a hundred patients.
There is text on the wall which reads as powerfully as the images:

"It's a prison that chases us day by day and kills us by injecting us with medicine."
"There's an old woman who's been here for forty years, left over from the past."
"I don't have a comb, a toothbrush, clothes. I don't have socks. No one has."

I admire Richards work. I even included his work in my thesis paper for graduate school. What I admire most about him, is the change which happens from his work. Some of the institutions he photographed were shut down because his photographs were able to irrefutably describe the inhumane nature of treatment towards these people. His narratives are so powerful, and the inclusion of text makes them so. My thesis paper argued that text is needed alongside the photograph in order for the viewer to correctly interpret the image. Richards solidified my argument by saying in his lecture that he doesn't trust images, which is why he includes large amounts of text.

I awkwardly went up to him after the lecture to thank him for his images, to tell him about me including his work in my thesis paper, and to ask him to sign my books. He signed one of the books (50 Hours), which included text by his late wife Dorthea Lynch, "For Sarah, From Dorthea and Gene". I thought that was sweet. 50 Hours incorporates images of a birth and images from a protest, as well as text by Dorthea dealing with having cancer and not being able to have children of her own. The images and text all tie together about the concern for the future of children. It's a very powerful book.

I had a hard time finding images of his that were large enough to include in this post. So, instead of posting one body of work, I've posted a retrospect of Richards' work.

More of his work can be seen at www.eugenerichards.com

2 comments:

Robb's Eyepiece said...

You should've posted the conversation you had with Mr. Richards.

Bill Guy said...

Hey SB,

This is a nice, thoughtful post. The sweep of Richards' images is striking. I admire your courage for approaching someone that you look up to and having a conversation with them. I'm not so sure that I could do that.

I find it interesting that we have somewhat opposing interests in photography. I like its ambiguity and inherent ability to leave things in fragments. Whereas you, and Richards, fill in the gaps with text. It certainly seems appropriate for Richards, as you said that his work was responsible for shutting down some of the more inhumane mental institutions. I'm not so sure that the pictures could do that on their own. It also seems appropriate for you, since you have a similar interest in photography's role in the social sphere.

Bill