Few Comforts or Surprises: The Arkansas Delta by Eugene Richards
Eugene Richards first came to the southeastern part of Arkansas—the so-called Delta—in 1968 as a VISTA volunteer. After nearly two years in that organization working to set up a daycare center and recreation programs, he and some of his associates in it left to found RESPECT Inc., a private social-action program providing paralegal services, publishing a community newspaper, and distributing food and clothing in West Memphis (across the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tennessee).
As he lived and became increasingly involved in the black community, Richards, a skilled photographer, began to use his camera to record what he observed—not only the poverty and suffering of these people but also their laughter, contemplation, and triumphs. His subjects range from children at play to an African-style wedding to scenes of work and home life. Death, religion, and imprisonment are major elements of Delta existence, and so of these photos.
The 110 photographs collected here express the quality of life in a part of the South where 60 percent of the black families barely earn $2000 a year, and 70 percent of the dwellings are deteriorated and without plumbing. Richards' camera catches the cotton compresses, the cement mill, the broken fields and small cafes, Logan the mortician, the two blind brothers Willy and Isaiah McCowan, and the Reverend Ezra Greer at the state capitol in Little Rock, while his few but carefully chosen words complement these images. Together they hold the people and the place in a world that Richards feels "slipping by, while I merely observed its disappearance.
"I feared being only eyes, only a cameraman," he says, but through his camera his eyes become ours, and the power of his feelings, ours too.