The Mississippi delta of Arkansas has been called at various times the heart of the South, the land of opportunity, a forgotten place. I went there for the first time as a VISTA volunteer in 1969. This was but a year after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, a time when fear, racism, and poverty were what shaped people's lives.
The delta was as starkly beautiful back then as it is now, with cotton fields running to the horizon and small towns that appeared to rise up out of the land. I thought I’d be there a year, but ended up staying more than four years, working for an anti-poverty organization that I helped found with other former VISTAs, then as a reporter. I stayed until I just couldn’t anymore.
As time passed I went back to visit the McGowans, the Landers, Porter Lee and Will Davis, who were sharecroppers and the most generous people I’d ever known, though they had nothing. You’d drive past the carefully tended fields and the plantations with their miles of white fencing out to the sharecroppers’ shacks, where privation, rejection, and hunger were the norm.
I returned to the delta in 1986 when working on a book on American poverty, then eight years ago to search for the few remaining sharecropper shacks. The last time I went back, I photographed church services, tractors in the fields, children walking home as the sun was starting to set. But it wasn’t until this past winter that I found myself flipping through my old black-and-white contact books, the ones from the late '60s and early '70s, searching for pictures of life in the delta that I never took notice of before. And as I did this, more than forty years of memories began to well up and overlap.
Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down is about then and now, memory and change. Black-and-white photographs made long years ago and never printed are interwoven with recent color work and, in turn, a short story that relates my encounter with a tough-minded, impoverished delta woman but also addresses my own struggle with aging and mortality. Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down is a timely story, an experiment in bookmaking. But because the book speaks of what for some people are off-putting issues—race, poverty, and aging—I feel obliged to self-publish it.
A History of Self-Publishing
This is not the first time that I’ve had to self-publish a book. In 1978, I borrowed money from eight people to produce Dorchester Days, a study of the inner city neighborhood where I was born and raised. It was published under the imprint of Many Voices, which was the name of our community newspaper back in Arkansas.
Now, quite incredibly, Dorchester Days is included in anthologies of the best books in the history of the photographic medium (The Photobook: A History, vol. II, and The Open Book: A History of the Photographic Book).
Exploding into Life is the diary in words and pictures of my partner Dorothea’s struggle with breast cancer. Co-published by Aperture and Many Voices in 1986, Exploding into Life was denounced upon its release as insensitive, even harmful to women, but went on to be hailed as a landmark in women’s studies.
War Is Personal is an examination of the consequences of the Iraq War. After approaching a series of publishers that proved hesitant, I designed the book, as I have most of my books, then joined with friends and family to produce it. Published by Many Voices Press in 2010, War Is Personal is now essentially out-of-print, with the proceeds going to a military family in dire need.
Producing the Book
Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down is a wholly independent production. We are doing our own editing, layout and design, as well as covering the costs of hi-res scans, separations and match prints. And regarding our decision as to where to print the book, despite what will undoubtedly result in higher costs, Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down is to be printed and bound in the U.S., in support of American manufacturing.
Seeking Your Support
Kickstarter is more than a way of raising funds, it’s a way of building a community. Still I’m nervous to be seeking support from people who most certainly have their own needs and creative goals. All that I can think to say is that if you should find a way amongst the means being offered to assist in the publication of this book, I won’t disappoint you. Together, we’ll produce a book that’s innovative and honest and beautiful, that’s at the nexus of social awareness and art.
Photographs and texts by Eugene Richards
Hardcover: 112 pages
Size: approx. 12 x 10 inches
Photographs: 51 (26 black-and-white, 25 color)
Printing specifications: Four color, plus duotone
Designer: Eugene Richards
Publication date: June 2014
Along with the other rewards listed in the pledge column, supporters at the following levels will receive:
$150 or more - A signed copy of your choice of one of the books below
$350 or more - An as-new signed softcover edition of Cocaine True Cocaine Blue (Aperture, 1996)
$1,000 or more - An as-new signed copy of Dorchester Days (Many Voices Press, 1978)
The black-and-white images will be digital gelatin silver fiber prints and the color will be digital C-prints that will be produced at Laumont Photographics, a well respected lab in New York City.
$400 or more - Your choice of one signed 8-by-10-inch print from the selection of 10 photographs below
$800 or more - Your choice of one signed 11-by-14-inch print from the selection of 10 photographs below
$1,500 or more - Your choice of one signed 16-by-20-inch print from the selection of 10 photographs below
$2,500 or more - Your choice of one signed 20-by-24-inch print from the selection of 10 photographs below
$5,000 or more - Set of 10 signed 11-by-14-inch as seen below, presented in a custom-made portfolio box
Many Voices, Inc., a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) media organization, is the fiscal sponsor for this project, and, to the extent permitted by law, your contribution is tax-deductible less the value of any goods or services received. If you select the option “No Reward" when you back the project, your entire contribution will be considered tax-deductible and you will receive a special acknowledgment in the book.
Risks and challenges
When the challenges of this campaign are met, there will be a book published in June 2014. If there are to be any delays, they will be minimal, since each and every element of the design, layout, and production are being overseen by me and my close associates.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)