A Remembrance

And suddenly, it's September 11th again. I made a couple attempts to contact publications. One editor responded, saying he was only interested in contemporary events. Another put it most succinctly: the 14th anniversary is not a significant one. As my close friend Tom Fitzgerald just said, "Tell that to a family member." In a very small way of commemorating the day, here are a few words from a young woman, Kamila Milewska, who lost her brother Lukasz in the attacks:

"I can't understand why I'm dreaming about Lukasz all the time. But I was dreaming about him so many times, so many nights. I remember one dream that when I woke up, I felt calm, because during the dream, my brother was so happy. Everything was green and blue. It was in the forest. All the next day I was just smiling all the time. I was just smiling. I liked this dream, because I am so afraid that some day I will... well, not forget about my brother, but it will be not the same. Because now I remember him clearly: his eyes, his mouth, everything."

Faith in Winter

When I last posted, it was with a remembrance of photojournalist James Lukoski, who died on July 15th at age 60. Though years ago Jim had produced notable and award-winning coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s safe to say that he and his work have now been forgotten by all but his few friends. It seems to happen again and again and again, that many of our most creative people reach the end of their lives without the wherewithal or means to keep their accomplishments in the public eye.

It was back in March of this year that I received a phone call from my first cousin, Edward Hyland, who lived in New Hampshire. It had become our habit every six months or so to talk on the phone, mostly about family, since he was an articulate, often bemused storehouse of memories that I wholly lacked. On this particular day, our conversation stretched beyond an hour. Then, as we were saying our goodbyes, Edward calmly informed me that he had been diagnosed with cancer, that he had no more than six months to live. In almost the same breath, he cautioned me not to grow too upset, since he’d lived a full life, had contributed something to others through his work in human services, had a wife and two children whom he dearly loved. But then, after a lengthy pause, he offered that his one regret was that he had never fulfilled his longtime dream of publishing a book of his poetry. You see, Edward was a dedicated and lifelong poet, who'd had his first reading at the age of sixteen.

After catching my breath, I found myself suggesting that perhaps something could be done about this. So during the months ahead, as Edward’s cruel illness advanced and his family’s care of him grew more intensive, he edited, sometimes rewrote his poems. All the while, my son Sam and I worked and reworked a design of the book that he would be happy with–of course, he wanted his first book to be a hardcover. The introduction was written by veteran writer Matthew Mayo, while Edward’s son, Dillon, took on the difficult task of writing an afterword. All of this was accomplished on a necessarily tight deadline. Edward’s wife, Robin, planned a gathering of friends and family in their home, a gathering that would, in effect, be a goodbye party. It was there that Edward was able to personally sign his new book, Faith in Winter.

And so, as it happens, our not-for-profit, Many Voices Press, became the proud publisher not of a photographic book, as had been the case in the past, but of a book of fine poetry.

If you have an interest in purchasing Faith in Winter, please follow the links below:
Softcover version
Hardcover version

James Lukoski (1955-2015)

Self-portrait. ©James Lukoski

Self-portrait. ©James Lukoski

Time is passing all too quickly. It seems only a few months ago that I wrote a remembrance or elegy for the American-born photographer, Jerry Berndt, who died in Paris, where he’d been living for years. The truth is, I wrote that elegy back in 2013.

Time is passing all too quickly. The artists that I’ve personally known who passed away over the last year or so include the brilliant and provocative writer Charles Bowden, the deeply talented photographers Mary Ellen Mark and Charles Harbutt, and most recently the photojournalist James Lukoski.

I first came to know Jim Lukoski in 1979, when I was a teacher, he a student at the International Center of Photography in New York City. Over the next decade, we had a go at being roommates, accompanied each other on assignments, fostered a true, if at times troubled, friendship. What will remain my fondest memory of Jim is his gentle, loving treatment of my then girlfriend, later first wife, Dorothea Lynch. When Dorrie was most ravaged by terminal breast cancer, he would find ways to make her laugh. He always made her feel beautiful.

Dorothea and Jim, New York, 1981.  ©Eugene Richards

Dorothea and Jim, New York, 1981.  ©Eugene Richards

Last Wednesday, July 15th, Jim died of an apparent heart attack in Staten Island. The brief obituary that follows is something that Jim’s brother Gary and I cobbled together. It is brief, but we didn’t want any more time to pass before informing you of what happened.

Grafitti in refugee camp, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1990.  ©James Lukoski

Grafitti in refugee camp, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1990.  ©James Lukoski

Child injured in bombing, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1990.  ©James Lukoski

Child injured in bombing, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1990.  ©James Lukoski

James Allen Lukoski of Staten Island, New York, passed away at home on July 15, 2015. James was born in Ripon, Wisconsin, on January 8, 1955. He attended Ripon and Green Lake public schools and lived in the Ripon area for the first 24 years of his life. After high school James worked for The Green Lake Marina, Tuscumbia Country Club and The Heidel House Resort. His sporting interests included karate and sailing in local races on Green Lake. He loved animals, especially dogs. He rescued many stray dogs throughout his life and gave them a good home and much attention. He also developed a strong interest in photography while living and working in Green Lake.
James studied photography at The International Center of Photography in New York City. He worked as a freelance photographer beginning in 1979. His work has appeared in LIFE Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, People Magazine, The Independent Magazine, TIME, Newsweek, Stern, American Photographer and Fortune, among others. His coverage included photographs of Wisconsin farm life, stray dogs let loose in the city, New York’s Central Park and the Gulf war from both the American and Iraqi perspective. Most notable, perhaps, was his coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the late 1980s and early 1990s. His photographs, the Huffington Post wrote, “reveal the tragedy of the conflict, the toll it took on the general population as seen in the faces of people he photographed.”
From 1988 through 1990 he was a member of the photographic agency JB Pictures and from 1990 through 1994 he was a member of Black Star. In 1987 he was awarded a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He was a recipient of the 1990 Journalism fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation. He was a recipient of a Canon Photo Essayist/Missouri School of Journalism Award for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He taught photography at the International Center of Photography in New York, at the Martha’s Vineyard School of Photography and the Maine Photographic Workshop. His most recent exhibition was a one-man show, entitled “Black and White, but mostly Gray,” held in 2011 at The GreenPoint Gallery in Brooklyn.
James is survived by his brother Gary Lukoski. He was preceded in death by his parents, Clarence and Genevieve Lukoski. 
 

Those of you who didn’t know Jim's work might want to search out his photography on the Getty Images and the Alicia Patterson websites, where you’ll find examples of his strong, heartfelt coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some of the links are below:

Getty Images
Alicia Patterson: New Miseries
Alicia Patterson: Faces of the Anguished

On Memorial Day

Gail Ulerie

"My son, who was in the Marines, loves girls, loves them, but I know he will never get married, that I’ll have no grandchildren. But all in all, I’m living in hope that he’ll be able to do more than he is doing, that he’ll be able to do 25% of his own care. That would be a great achievement and make him feel independent. Now people say to me, well, you don’t have a life, but I have a life. When I go out, shopping or whatever, I enjoy myself, but I’m always wondering what’s he doing. Sitting in the bed? Watching TV? What’s he doing?

           "He can’t go to the amusement park. Oh, that used to be our outing as a family. Shurvon would ride every ride, ride the bumper cars. He loved the roller coaster—the highest, the craziest—and didn’t care how long that line was, he was going to wait. He was going to stand there. He was going to burn in the sun. He had music on, and he was just having fun. He loved to go to the movies, but I can’t bring him to the movies, with him coughing like that. Somebody might think he was making too much noise. Then sometimes I pull him up on his feet and we begin to dance. That’s what I most want to do: dance with my son."

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Dustin Hill

"Now I was always the one who said, 'I never want to have kids.' I guess I thought my life was too busy to have a child involved. I wasn’t ready for it. Then the day Sarah told me she was pregnant that whole thought process just absolutely changed. All I could think about was, 'I have to get ready and have this baby.' That was the end of drinking; I haven’t drunk anything since. No, I’ve had one beer since then; a Vietnam veteran offered me one when I was at his house. You know, since leaving for Iraq, my life has changed so much. It’s… I don’t know why, what did it, but coming home from Iraq put my life into perspective. It’s sad to see guys who went over, fought for their country, and couldn’t leave the war there. That’s all they could think about. It’s ruined their lives. Like I said, I have no time for that. Go to war, leave it at war; don’t bring it home. 

           "Now, because of the injury, I don’t have to get up in the morning. I don’t have to leave home. I don’t have to go to work every day. I don’t have to go and do anything because of the injury. So for me right now, that’s a great benefit. How many people can have a five-month-old daughter and stay home and play with her non-stop?"

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Clarissa Russell

"I went to the funeral at the church, but didn’t go to the burial part, because I had to work that day, and I couldn’t find anyone to work for me. The funeral was sad, beautiful. I carried the baby up to the casket… because I wanted her to see her dad one last time. I had to bring her up there. But then you want to slap him for taking his own life, or yell at him again, you know. But, you don’t, because what you really want to do is… kiss him. You keep it together when you’re up there, and just walk away. Jonny’s sister spoke, his mom spoke, and the priest, but it was hard for all the crying. Still I just didn’t cry. I didn’t cry and I didn’t cry and I didn’t cry. I don’t know why it took so long.

           "Me and Kaley, we go out to the cemetery all the time. We went out there on Easter. We went on Father’s Day. We went for Memorial Day. And then we… we always wave, ’cause we can see his headstone from the road. We always wave when we go by. We say, 'Bye, Daddy,' and we wave."

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In a Far Away Mind

I've been out of touch for some time now, working on the rare assignment, on readying the new book Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down for printing (at the end of February), while adapting my book War is Personal into something that might be shown on the small stage or most hopefully in the classroom.

Now what's recently happened is the Brooklyn Museum has asked me if I might present a reading of this new work, In a Far Away Mind, this coming Saturday, January 25th. The program will begin at 2 p.m. with a 5-minute video, an animation of the War is Personal photographs. This will be immediately followed with the reading by a group of experienced, New York-based actors. There will then be, as time allows, a moderated Q&A involving all those who assisted with this project. Our guest of honor will be Michael Harmon, who served as a combat medic in Iraq and is one of the characters in the production. Mike's story is an important one, about overcoming obstacles and forging a new life out of the shadows of war.

The reading of In a Far Away Mind is in association with the Brooklyn Museum's ongoing exhibition, WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath. It will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, January 25th. The Brooklyn Museum is located at 200 Eastern Parkway (2&3 Trains) and the presentation will be in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, 3rd Floor. Admission to the museum will include attendance at this event.

We would love for you to attend.

http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/calendar/event/7039

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Hoping for a Job

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Mike Connolly, who traveled to the Bakken area from Minnesota in search of work, lines up at 4 a.m. each morning at Bakken Staffing, an employment agency, hoping to receive a job for the day, Williston, North Dakota, June 1, 2012. Mike lives in a trailer with his two Chihuahua mix dogs, Precious and Little Bit. In today's New York Times I read a couple of pieces that, in my mind at least, have relevance to this picture. 

The first article – in the business pages – pointed out that between the years 2000 and 2008, the typical earning of men, who've earned at least a Bachelor's degree, fell $2,000. Then between 2008 and last year, their earning fell a further $3,500. It was about the same for women. The same piece pointed out what you might already know, that the top one percent of the American population now takes in nearly one dollar of every four dollars generated by the American economy.

The second article concerns the sale at auction of a single painting. On Tuesday night a 1969 Francis Bacon triptych sold for $142.4 million at Christie's – the most expensive work of art ever sold in this way. Reportedly, when the bidding for the "three studies of Lucian Freud" painting concluded, the overflowing crowd in attendance burst into applause.

Forever

Section 60, Arlington National Cemetery

Section 60, Arlington National Cemetery

“It’s going on four years, plus, since Bobby was killed. I’ve just returned from DC with my husband and we can never go down there without visiting him. This time there was another Marine burial going on. The 21-gun salute sent chills right up our spines.

“What losing Bobby also did, to us, was make us aware that nothing is forever. My husband and I had to make our decisions about what to do when our day ends. We’ve decided we want half of our ashes to be at Arlington National Cemetery, though there are rules that say we can’t be there. A spouse can be buried there, but there are no provisions for parents. But we are going to be there. We are going to have half our ashes spread on the ground, across Bobby’s grave. The rest of our ashes are for our other son Greg. Then we will be with both of them forever.”

—Paula Zwillinger of Lagrangeville, NY, whose son was killed in Iraq

Excerpted from War is Personal (Many Voices Press, 2010)

Life in a Circle

How to explain it? Just this morning I sat reading the brutal and overarching headlines in the newspapers and as I did so, I found myself detecting little things around me I’d taken no real notice of before. Massacre in Kenya, Gunmen Kill Dozens (The weather-worn front windows of our house that face out onto the street, where children were playing); Afghan Insider Attack, 3 Coalition Soldiers Dead (A snapshot of my son taken seven years ago, when he was so full of teen angst, so painfully young); Suicide Attack Kills Scores in Baghdad (My wife’s shoulder length hair, baby-thin now and the color of scratched ice).

Do you know what I’m trying to say? The especially cruel headlines this morning and the stories that followed took every bit of my concentration; for a few cold, hard minutes I was learning some things about the world that I need to know. And yet these very same headlines and stories left me sitting there, feeling even more ineffectual, angry and anxious. And so in a kind of reflexive, maybe defensive way, my mind wandered, to what’s beautiful.

A couple of years ago I was photographing an annual report for a pharmaceutical company and ended up in a hospital in downtown Guatemala City, where I was privileged to witness one of those mostly unnoticed and un-newsworthy events that speak of how giving some people can be. Permit me to share this story with you.

Wild Things

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In the August issue of National Geographic, you’ll find Nick Nichols’ sure-to-be-classic photographs of lions: bruised but indomitable males, lionesses baring their fangs when threatened, lion cubs sitting atop the corpse of a zebra the way soldiers sit astride a hill they’ve conquered. But if you think about it, there are wild things that inhabit much more mundane worlds, that live out their lives not on the plains of the Serengeti, but in fenced-in backyards like mine in Brooklyn, a wilderness that’s so scaled down, so dwarfed by the buildings rising up around it that it’s hard to fathom that it exists.

The first picture above is of our male tabby cat, Max, half visible behind splashes of dried, chalky nose grease and the streaks left by his paws when he’s scratching to come inside. His eyes are expressionless, with pretty much all the emotion gone from them. What I saw in Max at that moment was not a house pet, but a kind of lion in miniature, a spookily wise, mostly unknowable creature trapped for a moment behind glass.

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The second picture is, yes, of a dead wood thrush in a freezer bag. Seeing a commotion out the first floor window of our house, a flutter of wings in the grass, I rushed outside, grabbed the ginger-colored Ollie by the scruff of his neck, shook him until the bird fell from his mouth, but regretfully not out of his reach. Ollie was immediately on it again, grasping the bird tight. I yelled for my wife Janine, hoping she could help corner the fleeing animal, and cursed my son Sam for having dumped the cats he’d rescued on us, though he wasn’t around to hear me.

Ollie got not one, but two blue jays last year. The first killing; I thankfully didn’t see it, but heard it. When I got outside, there was a male, maybe it was the female, up in the tree screeching in terror as Ollie strode the yard with the dead jay in his jaws. I chased Ollie down, pulled the bird away, thought to bury it. The dirt out in back of our house is veined with tree roots, patchy grass, and ivy. I lay the surprisingly heavy jay in a deep hole I’d dug with some difficulty, with a hand rake and spoon, then covered it over, only to find the tiny grave dug up come morning.

I need to tell you things are different now. The songbirds still drop down from the hundred-year-old maple that looms over our neglected jumble of a backyard. Difference is that when they’re finished searching around for bugs or worms or whatever, they leave unscathed. It’s not that Ollie’s being kept indoors to cut down on the predation. No, he’s out there still walking a fence or hiding on our next-door neighbors’ deck—except that he’s no longer wearing a collar with a bell; he’s wearing a bib. Now every time Ollie wants to go outside, he waits at the door until either Janine or I fasten the seven-inch-wide bit of fabric around his neck. And this bit of fabric either impedes Ollie’s attacks or warns the birds away. Whatever the reasons, there have been no birds killed the whole summer long.

But as for getting these pictures published, it’s not going to happen. Dead animals in Africa, great; dead animals in America, not so great. There was one photo editor at a magazine devoted to wildlife who understood the underlying purpose of these pictures: to address the dilemma of having as pets extraordinary creatures that are prone to killing birds. But then this editor also declined to publish the pictures, stating that the magazine would have run them if only Ollie wasn’t my cat. But because he is my cat, I am complicit in his crimes.

Jerry Berndt: A Remembrance

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It’s been about two weeks since I and about twenty other people received an email that began, “Jerry left us for good earlier this week.” The Jerry being referred to was my longtime friend, the photographer Jerry Berndt; the author of the email was Marie-Pascale, his wife, who, I would come to learn later, was writing at a time when the stress and sense of sorrow was overwhelming. Still the terse and enigmatic email sent many of those who received it into a confused state of both knowing and not knowing, of hoping against hope that we’d misunderstood her words.

Jerry Berndt and I were yes, friends, but not what would usually be considered best friends; we didn’t see each other often enough to be that. What we were were soul mates: roughly the same age, with not dissimilar political views, a love of life, a palpable anger at what we viewed as injustice, coupled with immense, sometimes uncontrollable self-doubt. We met some time in the early 1970s—the exact details of how and when are lost on me—but it was some time after I’d returned from working in the Arkansas delta. I was living with my girlfriend Dorothea, barely paying the bills, and just beginning to photograph the street life of Dorchester, the Boston neighborhood I was born in. Jerry, having finished up a deeply personal series of photographs on Boston’s strip club district, the so-called Combat Zone, was continuing his nighttime wanderings in and out of hard- luck barrooms making filmic, grainy, painfully authentic photographs that he would later say came naturally to him, since he’d spent many of his growing up years in the bar his father ran in Milwaukee.

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From the series The Combat Zone ©Jerry Berndt

From the series The Combat Zone ©Jerry Berndt

The Jerry Berndt I knew back then was at most five-foot-eight, thin as a stick, bearded, with lots of dark, straight hair hanging over his eyes. There was this intensity, almost a feral quality about him: hands, legs nervously moving, lit cigarette hanging down from his lips, even as he reached for his harmonica to hammer out the blues, as he loved to do for his friends, or for anyone else, in fact, who’d listen. Jerry had been a protester, later an organizer in the anti-Vietnam war movement, a journalist who grew as accustomed as one can to the threat of violence, a conflicted man who often as not felt a disconnect from what most people might consider the usual, or American way of life. He was cool, to use the vernacular of the time. Cool, meaning that though Jerry held opinions on most everything, he generally held himself in check, kept some things to himself. And as a result, the person that he was inside could not always be reached.

It was three long, troubling days after receiving that first email that I learned anything more about what had befallen Jerry. He died of “heart failure,” a gallerist in Europe wrote. He was found in his Paris studio by firemen, read another note. A clearly upset friend said Jerry had been looking forward to the publication of his next book. He had upcoming exhibitions and had seemed happy, someone else said. So now at least I knew something, but, of course, the simple fact that he was gone rattled me. As a way to try to cope, I found myself trying to recall when I’d last spoken to Jerry (something like a year ago); when I’d last seen him in New York (was it four years ago?); when I received a copy of his retrospective book,

Insight

(in 2010); when I last sat down to talk at length with him (in a Paris café in 2004). Then as happens when you try to put exact times or dates to memories, the memories begin to swirl up around you almost all at the same time. It’s 1976; I can see Jerry trudging along a Cambridge street towards me, snow falling, camera around his neck, deep in thought, not noticing me. Then it’s 1980. I can see him sitting in the front window of the photo gallery the two of us and a few photographer friends opened in Boston’s North End, waiting for guests who would sometimes come, sometimes not. I see him in 1983 among those comforting me after Dorothea’s death from cancer, with each of my friends, in his or her own way, trying to come to terms with the fact that death is just one of life’s many mysteries. I see him in 1988 with my infant son Sam in his arms, softly singing, “Goodnight, Irene, goodnight, Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams….” to get him to fall sleep. And I see the two of us, Jerry and me at the age we are now, sitting someplace undefinable, maybe in Paris, maybe Brooklyn, with our arms around each other’s shoulders, not talking, silent, as if we’d run out of things to say.

Jerry Berndt

1943 - 2013

Carlos Arredondo

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Numerous incidents of heroism were noted amidst the horrific happenings in Boston on Patriots Day. I’d come to know one of the heroes, Carlos Arredondo, when working on a book about the consequences of the Iraq war. Carlos had lost his older son Alexander, a Marine, in Iraq.

On Monday, after the explosions, Carlos waded in among the bomb debris to lift up and assist one of the grievously injured. In subsequent news reports, of which there are many, Carlos and his wife Melida were described as anti-war activists, but not many know the extent of their own suffering, suffering that would have turned most of us inward and bitter, but hasn’t stopped them from dedicating their lives to peace.

This photograph was made on December 26, 2011 in a darkened room at a funeral home in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Melida and Carlos wished to spend a few quiet moments with their son Brian prior to the arrival of family and friends. The morticians hadn’t quite finished their work. A strip of white plastic had been placed around the young man's throat to cover the redness. Seven years had passed since Alexander was killed in An Najaf, Iraq. On December 19, 2011, the day after the announcement of the official end of the Iraq war, Brian, 24, took his own life.

Shock and Awe

A couple of weeks ago I posted The Landscape of Oil, a short, expressionistic video on the ongoing oil boom in North Dakota. The responses to it were thought-provoking and especially kind. Thank you. Today I’m writing with Shock and Awe, a video on the invasion of Iraq, most specifically on media coverage of the lead-up to and early weeks of that world-altering conflict. Produced and first shown ten years ago, Shock and Awe is a roughly chronological sequencing of press clippings, magazine and newspaper layouts, words and pictures in combination with a recording of President George W. Bush’s March 19, 2003 “Operation Iraqi Freedom” address to the nation.

Back in spring 2003, Greg Garneau, then executive director of the National Press Photographers Association, asked me to be part of a panel discussion on photographers’ coverage of the war to-date at the NPPA’s yearly convention. Truth be told, I was hesitant to be involved at first, since I hadn’t been to Iraq and wasn’t at all impartial about the war. But when I did attend the event, I presented this A/V piece, most probably describing it as a kind of visual investigation, albeit one hurriedly put together with the help of family and friends out of relevant bits and pieces of magazines and newspapers that we had on hand, borrowed from neighbors, or ran out to purchase. The resulting sequence is, as much as possible, apolitical, though notably incomplete. Still it will most probably stir up memories, from its opening moments when President Bush proclaims that the primary mission of coalition forces is the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction to the closing image: a small newspaper clipping in which combat veteran Pvt. Jessica Lynch describes her sudden inability to recall what had befallen her.

The term Shock and Awe is, by the way, one utilized by the U.S. military to describe the employment of overwhelming power in order to rapidly dominate and paralyze an adversary. And if it’s any help in putting what you’ll be hearing and seeing into context, remember that at the time of the invasion of Iraq back in March 2003, a reported 64% of Americans approved of the military action, as did a great majority of print, radio, and television media.

Credits for Shock and Awe:

Produced by Eugene Richards, with assistance from Janine Altongy

First screened at the 2003 NPPA National Convention in Itasca, IL on June 21, 2003

© 2003 Many Voices

The Landscape of Oil

A couple of weeks ago in my very first blog entry, I introduced a couple of photographs I found while going through old contact sheets. These pictures, which I made about 40 years ago and never printed, brought back a lot of memories. Back then the Arkansas delta was a place in transition, one that was racially divided and poverty-stricken, but, paradoxically, full of hope.

Today I’m posting something new, a short video that in a sense is an interpretation of work that I completed for National Geographic in North Dakota. The story, titled “The New Oil Landscape,” in the March issue of the magazine, focuses on the changes that a nearly unprecedented oil boom brought to this once isolated farming state. North Dakota is now the second largest producer of crude oil in the U. S. at a time when politicians and oilmen continue to advocate for energy independence at all cost.

Why produce a video after your story has been published in a magazine? Because no story is ever wholly complete, final or the last say about anything. Plus, even after you’re home for a while, your mind won’t let go of what you’ve seen and felt. You feel driven to explore other ways of storytelling.

I undertook this piece with the assistance of my son Sam Richards, a video editor. We reworked photographs into film-like sequences before adding a voice-over, music and ambient sound. It took a couple of days to do this, days of father-son spats over what each of us thought worked or didn’t, days of apologetic hugs and laughter, of trial and error, that culminated in the belief we’d accomplished something. 

The short video is titled “The Landscape of Oil.”

Looking Back

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After more than forty years as a photographer, I've been repeatedly told it's time to consider  putting together a retrospective. But I remain hesitant. It's not  the pictures, though there are a lot of ordinary ones. When you look back, you realize how many people you've lost touch with, how many people have either passed on or are unreachable.

Still,  needing to begin the process, I searched my faded contact sheets for pictures never published or even printed before. The year is 1970. The gaunt, haunted minister I knew as Reverend Landers is standing on the porch of the church he built at the edge of a cotton field west of Hughes, Arkansas. There were never more than a handful of people attending the services held in "the Little Church in the Wood," even on Sundays, though Willy and Isaiah McGowan were always there. The sons of a sharecropper named Will, they were blind, as was their mother Corrine.

In the second picture, which was in all likelihood taken in front of the tiny church, Reverend Landers' daughters are playing with one of their few toys, a broken doll. Back in 1973, while putting together Few Comforts or Surprises, my book about the Arkansas delta, I chose a photograph of one of the girls clutching the doll's head for the book's cover. Back then I was coming down hard on the very real racial separation of that time. Today, if redesigning the book, I would  include the picture you see here, which permits a more nuanced if understated look into a complex, often difficult, way of life.