Eugene Richards’ impact on photojournalism can’t be overerstated. Richards’ work inspired a generation of photographers—including this one—to pick up a camera and document the lives of those who slip through the cracks of society. Unflinching in tough situations—from photographing his own wife’s death to documenting users deep in the heart of a drug den—Richards has been able to bring viewers face to face with a life many don’t know or don’t want to acknowledge. 

Eugene Richards: The Run-On of Time, his first full museum retrospective, is long overdue. Hosted first by the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, then moving to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, this collection of 146 photos, 15 books, and a selection of “moving images” serves as a reminder, for those of us who were once so moved by his photographs, to throw ourselves into the world, camera in hand, of why we started. It’s also a refreshing splash of inspiration to a new generation of photographers experiencing Richards’ mastery for the first time.

The images are searing, compassionate, brutal and beautiful, all at once. The show pulls work from every major body of work throughout Richards’ career: from his early days in the Arkansas Delta, to crack houses in Brooklyn, to the post-9/11 landscape, to his quieter work on the Dakota plains. 

Where Richards excels, though, is not just as a photographer, but as a social documentarian, someone who knows what it means to carry the responsibility and privilege of telling someone else’s story with empathy.

All photos by Eugene Richards, courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.

Doll’s head, Hughes, Arkansas, 1970

US Marine, Hughes, Arkansas, 1970

Dustin Hill with his daughter, Mineral, Illinois, 2008

Final treatment, Boston, Massachusetts, 1979

“Crack Annie,” Brooklyn, New York, 1988

Grandmother, Brooklyn, New York, 1993

Exhausted nurse, Denver, Colorado, 1982

Mariella, Brooklyn, New York, 1992

Still House Hollow, Tennessee, 1986

The old ward, Psychiatric Hospital, Asunción, Paraguay, 2005

Snow globe of the city as it once was, New York, New York, 2001

Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Lehi, Arkansas, 2010

Peter’s Rock Church, Marianna, Arkansas, 2010

PTSD, McHenry, Illinois, 2014

Walum, North Dakota, 2006

Eugene Richards: The Run-On of Time is on display at the George Eastman Museum from June 10 to October 22 and then at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City December 9 through April 15, 2018. A catalogue distributed by Yale University Press with essays by curators from both museums is available.