Brief notes on The Blue Room

“… all these years later I was back again, on my knees in a muddy cotton field searching for what had once been, with no real understanding of why I was doing this, no clear reason for doing it, except that in growing older I’d taken to remembering much too much about the past one day, nothing at all the next.” (2008, p163)

Richards highlights the issue of memory:  “I pick up a doll’s head and have this dim recollection of my sister playing with it.  I walk into the wallpapered room where there’s an old claw-foot tub and remember bathing my elderly father in it.  I look out the floor-to-ceiling windows and see myself as a young child running around in the sunburnt fields.  But the memories aren’t my memories, and they’re not the memories of the people who once lived here.” (2008, p164)

Near Stanley, North Dakota, December 2006 [image, p131] is taken inside a room with the golden glow of a setting or rising sun casting yellow on the peeling white paint of the walls.  The floor is littered with debris, remnants of the room that once was, each piece containing voices, thoughts, touch, ideas.  The closed sash window looks out onto white, fog or snow it is not clear, but the grey fingers of a thin bare tree that looks as if it needs nourishment itself stands just beyond the clouded glass.  To the left of the window we see the edge of the door frame, a slither of a larger space where once was a door.  There is no protection here, no defence from the cold or the elements.  One certainly has the feeling that the room is colder in than out.

Other images include a discarded glowing image of Jesus Christ left on the floor alongside the plastic loops from a beer six pack, a bird in flight, a dead dog, mirrors, windows, wedding dresses; all the traces of a living breathing space as was. Then a leather palmed glove on a bed of rotting wool, that holds within it the remains of several moths; multiple wings, disconnected from any body or frame.

The book makes me sad.  I return it to the shelf.

I read in a later interview Richards’ expression of the problematic nature of photographs,  how they are static, and even though they preserve a fragment of a perspective, each is still of its time: “That’s one of the troubles of photography; the implication that what you have in that photograph is the way it is, and of course a year later that’s not the way it is. Life moves on and the picture stays. That can be a wonderful idea to be a part of history and on the other hand, you think pictures have a life that they don’t have.” (in Mayer, 2016)

And of being intrusive, as a photographer working with people: “There’s never a time that I’m not intrusive. That’s the base of what we do: we’re intrusive. Anyone saying the opposite is silly. There’s a process and a means of getting to know people and getting them to trust you, but I’m always very aware that I’m visiting—that I’m there, that I have a responsibility, but I am intrusive.” (in Mayer, 2016)

Richards, E.
The Blue Room, 2008, London and New York: Phaidon

Richards,E. in Mayer, T. (2016) EUGENE RICHARDS AND AMERICAN POVERTY, Interview, 5 October 2016, available at: https://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/eugene-richards (Accessed 31 March 2019)

Featured image:  Eugene Richards, Corinth, ND.  2006, available at: https://eugenerichards.com/the-blue-room (Accessed 310319)