04 / 09 / 2009
After the outstanding and heart-breaking reports by Todd Heisler, “The Final Salute” (exhibited in couvent des minimes in 2006) and by Nina Berman, “Marine Wedding” (exhibited in Perpignan in 2008), Eugene Richards presents his series of fifteen photographic essays entitled War Is Personal, dealing with the Americans whose lives have been deeply and irrevocably impacted by the ongoing war in Iraq.
Eugene Richards is a noted American documentary photographer. After receiving a BA in English and journalism from the University of Boston, he militated against the Vietnam War. He started photography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, supervised by photographer Minor White. During the 1960s, Richards was a civil rights activist and VISTA volunteer. He photographed the emergency department of Salvador Hospital in 1982. He has covered several subjects like English farming, the war on drugs in America, and problems in Africa. He then studied American communities for Life, and continued to do reports on America and Africa. He published his first book in 1973, Few Comforts or Surprises: The Arkansas Delta, started working as a freelance photographer, and published Dorchester Days (a "homecoming" to Dorchester, Massachusetts, where Richards had grown up). The photographs and diary of his wife's struggle against breast cancer were published in 50 hours, Exploding into Life. In 1994, he organized a documentary, Cocaine true, cocaine blue and Americans We, that won attention and was rewarded. Eugene has published 15 books.
After 9/11, Eugene started to work on the aftermath of the attack. "I was very much against the war." In 2006, the war in Iraq entered its 4th year and no weapons of massive destruction had been found. There were tens of thousands injured and dead in Iraq, and more than 2,000 dead American soldiers. Eugene wanted to go to Iraq to cover the war, but no magazine was interested. Then, in 2005, after an anti-war demonstration, Eugene Richards realized that "war is a reminder of all that we have, and all that we can lose." He wondered: "You can protest, but as a photographer, you are not doing anything." Shortly after that, he started the project, "War is personal", telling 15 stories about people whose lives will never be the same. "I had no idea of who I was going to photograph. I've done15 stories, but I could have done hundreds."
His exhibition presents a former combat medic who struggled with addiction upon returning home, a father who has just learned that his son was killed in action, a mother who spends every waking hour caring for her grievously brain-injured son, a young soldier who refused redeployment and fled to Canada, a young paraplegic shot in the spine four days after arriving in the country. Eugene tells very intimate stories. "Sometimes I got very nervous when I photographed the wounded or their families, because there is a delicate balance. I didn't want to introduce too far. I wanted them to be spontaneous, and didn't want them to correct themselves. Some pictures were very hard to take, because they were terrible." Eugene evokes Tomas Young, who had been shot in the spine and paralyzed, who encouraged him to take the photos even if they were dreadful.
For most of us, war is something that happens somewhere else, to someone else. The ongoing war in Iraq is, for many, little more than a fading news story. And yet, a lot of young people have been enrolled into the army. "Most people go to the war because it's a way out of their lives. They are young and don't think about the consequences. Other people saw the terrorist attack in New York, and decided to strike back the people who did that."
It is hard to come back from the war, and reintegrate into society, even for journalists. There is a lot of confusion. People go through depression, turn to drugs, alcoholism.
Eugene proposes to examine the human cost of war and its terrible consequences. His photographs are mostly intended as a means of raising social awareness. "That kind of pictures should be more published in magazines, to touch a bigger audience".