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First museum retrospective of photographer Eugene Richards opens at Nelson-Atkins
Eugene Richards, American (b. 1944), Final treatment, Boston, Massachusetts, 1979. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Eugene Richards. © Eugene Richards.

KANSAS CITY, MO.- Eugene Richards’s photographs speak to the most profound aspects of human experience: birth, death, and human resilience amidst dire circumstances. Unflinching yet poetic, Richards’s photographs are firmly rooted in the texture of lived experience. The first retrospective museum exhibition highlighting his internationally renowned career, Eugene Richards: The Run-On of Time, features 130 photographs and opens at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City Dec. 9. The exhibition was co-organized by the Nelson-Atkins and the George Eastman Museum and runs through April 15, 2018.

“Eugene Richards confronts challenging subjects with an impassioned honesty that is at once controversial, lyrical, beautiful and melancholy,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “His photographs illuminate aspects of society that might otherwise remain hidden in plain sight.”

Co-curated by Nelson-Atkins Photography curator April M. Watson and Lisa Hostetler, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photography at the George Eastman Museum, this exhibition provides a complete understanding of Richards’s career, which is deeply informed by his dedication to social and economic issues.

“Richards places his trust, first and foremost, with his subjects–people who have often led difficult and complicated lives,” said Watson. “He gains their trust, getting to know their experiences of hardship and resilience, hope and despair. From that place of knowledge, as truthfully as he can, he tells their stories.”

Massachusetts to working-class parents, Richards came to photography in the context of the Vietnam War and the civil unrest of the mid- to late 1960s. In 1967, after refusing the draft on moral grounds, Richards studied photography with Minor White at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he learned the techniques of large format photography and the rewards of close observation. In 1969, he joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), working as a healthcare advocate in rural Arkansas and photographing the people he came to know there. In 1970, he helped found Respect, Inc., a private, non-profit social advocacy agency.

For much of his career, Richards has worked as a photojournalist: he has been a member of the esteemed photo collective Magnum, and worked independently on assignments, many of which have led to expanded, personal book projects that include first-person texts culled from interviews with his subjects. Other projects have been entirely self-driven. This exhibition weaves together selections from each of his major published projects, as well as previously unpublished work. It highlights recurrent themes: the political, social, and economic realities that shape people’s lives, the strength of familial devotion, and the impact of time and memory on the way we understand personal and societal change.

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