Reverend Horace Landers was tall, thin as a slat of wood, impoverished, possessed. In his hours-long Sunday sermons, when he spoke of the world as he saw it, of the pitiable and as yet enslaved human condition, his voice was little more than a child’s tearful sob. But then it rose to a roar you felt in your gut when he would exhort you and those around you to believe in the future, in the promises of the afterlife. When I made this picture on a Sunday afternoon in 1969, Reverend Landers was standing on the front porch of Mount Calver, the tiny church that he’d built himself at the edge of a cotton field. He was clearly exhausted after the service. Standing with him and looking a little like marionettes on a stage were his most loyal parishioners, brothers Willy and Isaiah McGowan, both blind.
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