Eugene Richards On "War is Personal"

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Daryl Lang


Documentary photojournalist Eugene Richards has a long career of producing powerful projects on social issues such as drug abuse, mental illness and aging. He is now working on a project on the impact of the Iraq war titled "War is Personal." Helped by a grant from National Geographic Magazine, he is traveling around the U.S. to work on a series of stories mainly about veterans and their families. PDN recently sat down with Richards at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., to talk about the project.

"I approached a number of magazines to see if they would be interesting in some sort of a series on the war," Richards says. "Tiny stories, not necessarily about returning soldiers, ... and not necessarily stories against the war, but people maybe who support it but also had their own experiences in the war. That's how it began."

Eventually The Nation, a left-leaning journal that rarely publishes photo stories, ran three of his photo essays. Winning a $50,000 grant from National Geographic magazine last year helped Richards continue the project, and the University of Texas Press plans to publish project as a book.

So far Richards has photographed a paralyzed Iraq veteran, the father of a Marine killed at war, and the single mother of a child whose father was an Iraq veteran who died in an apparent suicide, among others. Richards typically spends a couple of hours photographing his subjects, and may spend longer interviewing them for a short text about each individual.

"I seem to have accidentally... found peak moments in their lives. And the most important thing about this project is the text. It's more important � it's what people say and what people feel � than the photographs," he says.

To gain the cooperation of his subjects, Richards says he is honest with them about the project.

"I tell them exactly what I'm doing, sometimes I send them an example. I'm very honest with them, I say I have my own politics and I tell them what they are... I say I'm against the war but that's not what this story is about, and no matter what your point of view, it will go in there, and that I'll read the story to them."

"If anybody will spend time with me, I'll do a story on them. And as a result, it's not going to be any kind of a project where anybody's going say it's definitive, because there are millions of people involved. It can't be. It's going to be maybe 14 stories."

"There's no real singular point to be made by doing these stories except that it would be very obvious that, despite the way everybody in this country wants us to feel connected and driven in some popular way, that it comes down to personal stories. ... War all comes down to these little tiny stories about people's lives that will never be the same."
 

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