The remains of a farm worker’s house, Hughes, AR, 2010
The remains of a farm worker’s house, Hughes, AR, 2010
Photograph by Eugene Richards

Notes From the Road: Abandoned House

It’s what I can’t help searching for when I return to the Arkansas Delta. It stood far out in a cotton field, hidden in an overgrowth of trees, bushes, vines, and tall, stringy grass that crowded and threatened to push it over. The old farmhouse had been split by lightning. The roof was falling in, the walls broken, the floors spongy, undependable. Flies were hitting against the windows.

Whenever I push my way into a house that’s been abandoned, I’m nervous; I can’t be sure that I’m alone, and it’s not easy to breathe with the stale air and the dust. My back to the wall, I begin to feel my way through the dark, cluttered rooms, trying to imagine who’d lived here and what caused them to leave. Sometimes I imagine that it’s a crime scene and I’m searching for clues, expended cartridges, bloodstains, strands of hair.

Photographer Eugene Richards, a frequent contributor to National Geographic magazine, began his career over 40 years ago as a VISTA volunteer in the Mississippi Delta of Arkansas. The people he met and the photographs he made of them became the basis for his first book, Few Comforts or Surprises: The Arkansas Delta.

The land and its stories have stayed a part of him, and in 2012 Richards published a new story, “Arkansas Delta, 40 Years Later,” in National Geographic magazine.

Now, thanks to a recent Kickstarter campaign, the story will continue in the form of a new book, Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down, scheduled for publication in 2014. As part of the fund-raising process Richards has been keeping a journal, Notes From the Road, part memory, part new experiences, discussing the Arkansas delta photo stories, then and now.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Proof will dip into this stream and share Richards’s stories with you. To see all of his posts and to learn more about his new book, visit Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down—Keith Jenkins, director of photography

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