Eugene Richards

Unfiltered Truth

BY: Jes Zurell

The truth is ugly and battered. The truth has pores, bruises and a past. Under the sticky-thick, semi-wet shellac of ad campaigns and pop culture, the truth is a raw nail bed.

 

The truth has seen a hell of a lot worse than you, not that it’s a competition. Fairness is never in play.

 

Oscar Wilde recognized that the truth is rarely pure and never simple. To Mark Twain, it was stranger than fiction because fiction had to, at the very least, make sense. Emily Dickinson thought truth was rare, and therefore delightful to tell.

 

And photographer Eugene Richards tells it frame by frame in “Eugene Richards: The Run-On of Time,” which opened at the International Center of Photography on September 28 and runs through January 6, 2019. The show honors Richards’s five-decade career by curating his work thematically rather than chronologically. We struggled to breathe under the gravity of it all when we noticed how the truth in his photographs – much like history, itself – repeats in diverse circumstances, as a reminder that societies have learned very little.

 

Richards’s work revels in the real. Through his lens, the head of a broken doll being cradled by a child is like a diamond in a world of cubic zirconia. A cancer treatment, an abandoned home, a psychiatric ward – these are the gems we are meant to unearth and wear daily, no matter how sharp their edges.

 

People have questioned the truth for a very long time, and in a world of catfishing, #metoo, filters and editing, we’re grateful for each and every moment in which Eugene Richards gives it to us straight.

 

Eugene Richards photograph
Still House Hollow, Tennessee, 1986. By Eugene Richards.

 

Grandmother Brooklyn, by Eugene Richards.
Grandmother Brooklyn, by Eugene Richards.

 

Peters Rock Church, by Eugene Richards
Peters Rock Church, by Eugene Richards

 

Final Treatment, by Eugene Richards
Final Treatment, by Eugene Richards.

 

Dolls Head by Eugene Richards.
Dolls Head by Eugene Richards.

 

Eugene Richards (American, b. 1944). Wonder Bread, Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1975. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Eugene Richards. © Eugene Richards

 

 

 

 

 

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 1992. “Mariella” ties her arm before shooting up cocaine in September 1992 in the East New York section of Brooklyn, New York. The crack epidemic refers to the period of time between 1985 and 1990 in which there was a huge surge in the use of crack cocaine. Corresponding surges in crime and murder rates in American cities during those years have been attributed to crack dealing and usage.
,BROOKLYN, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 1992. “Mariella” ties her arm before shooting up cocaine in September 1992 in the East New York section of Brooklyn, New York. The crack epidemic refers to the period of time between 1985 and 1990 in which there was a huge surge in the use of crack cocaine. Corresponding surges in crime and murder rates in American cities during those years have been attributed to crack dealing and usage.
John coming down from crack by eugene richards
John Coming Down from Crack, New York, NY, 1986. By Eugene Richards.

 

Dorcester Days, Eugene Richards
From Dorcester Days, by Eugene Richards.