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The Blue Room [Hardcover]

Eugene Richards
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Nov 2008

Eugene Richards is one of America’s greatest living social documentary photographers. His intense vision and unswerving commitment to documenting the plight of the disadvantaged has produced powerful work on topics such as drug addiction, poverty, the mentally disabled, ageing and the personal consequences of war. The Blue Room is his first colour project, a moving, highly personal project that brings together the themes that encompass all of Richards’ work – what he describes as the ‘transient nature of things’. The photographs are portraits of the abandoned and forgotten houses of western America in areas such as the plains of Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and the Dakotas. In the early twentieth century, railroads lured settlers west with the promises of homesteads and towns rose across the plains. But in the wake of the Depression and the dust storms of the 1930s the towns faltered then failed. Richards enigmatic photographs of these forgotten homes are a meditation on memory and loss – family photographs stuck on a wall, a wedding dress hanging in a bedroom, snow falling on a bed by an open window, a wild horse standing at an open kitchen window. Richards’ contemplative, beautiful photographs inspire us to imagine the lives of the former occupants, and make a quiet statement on the inevitability of the circle of life and death, and the vulnerability of man in the face of shifting economic opportunities and the climate.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Phaidon Press; Prima edizione (First Edition) edition (4 Nov 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0714848328
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714848327
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 40.6 x 28.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 287,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'Having made his name with his black-and-white urban reportage, [Richards’] belated move to colour dismayed some of his faithful […] but it seemed to me to be a successful reinvention rather than a late mellowing-out. Taken from his recent book, The Blue Room, Richards' large colour prints of abandoned houses and landscapes in the American south were evocative and elegiac. ... This is William Eggleston's weird southern gothic reworked as a remembrance of things long gone. ... The master of monochrome moves into colour and evokes a vanishing American deep south, revealing a late-flowering Romanticism in sumptuous landscapes and decaying interiors.'
The Observer

About the Author

Eugene Richards is best known for his books and photo essays on cancer, drug addiction, poverty, emergency medicine and paediatric HIV. His intense vision and unswerving commitment have led him to become arguably America’s greatest living social documentary photographer.


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plain close-ups 26 Jun 2010
By Robin Benson TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Click away at the Amazon 'Customers who bought this item also bought' feature and you'll be amazed at the increasing number of photo books devoted to American ruins, though I think abandonment is perhaps a more truthful description. It seems a side product of the throwaway society. Commercial concerns can just walk away from factories (especially low-tech ones) shops, drive-in theatres, gas stations amongst other buildings. I recently reviewed Detroit Disassembled a fascinating photo book about the city with some amazing shots of buildings and their contents which were just abandoned (and an even better book is Yves Marchand / Romain Meffre: The Ruins of Detroit).

Photographers like Eugene Richards and others headed for the Great Plains states where the human side of abandonment is scattered across the landscape and intimately visible when you get inside some of these homes. Lone houses from decades ago are slowly falling apart, more recent ones still keep the elements out but the thing I find intriguing is the amount of personal life that is left behind. Photos, letters and other personal possessions, clothing, appliances and household items are just left. Perhaps there is only so much that can be loaded into a pick-up and everyone must have had some form of transport to live here.

Eugene Richards, with his first colour book, explores sparsely populated rural America with sensitivity and curiosity but I found so many of these photos trapped in a format of showing decay and being arty at the same time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eugene Richards: The Blue Room 12 May 2010
By R. Lamb
Format:Hardcover
This is Richards' first publication in colour, despite having a cover featuring two black and white photographs (found by Richards in the abandoned houses that feature in the book). It is an enormous book, difficult to view without a supporting table or similar. The quality of the printing is fantastic, and the paper is of a good weight, texture and finish.

There has, for some years now, been a vogue for 'urban exploration' photography, and on the surface Richards' exploration of abandoned rural houses across North America might seem to fit into that category. This, however, is a far more personal meditation on memory, loss and grief. Indeed, the blurb in the book describes it as being about 'the fragility of life and the transient nature of things'.

If you are new to Eugene Richards, it might be better to have a look at Dorchester Days or The Knife and Gun Club - books which are perhaps more representative of his sphere of work. If you know those books, this is more than a mere 'Richards Does Colour' curiosity and certainly worth buying, especially as it is now available at a heavily reduced price. My copy was bought some months ago at a gallery, signed by the man himself, and is one of my most prized possessions.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plain close-ups 26 Jun 2010
By Robin Benson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Click away at the Amazon 'Customers who bought this item also bought' feature and you'll find an increasing number of photo books devoted to American ruins, though I think abandonment is perhaps a more truthful description. It seems a side product of the throwaway society. Commercial concerns can just walk away from factories (especially low-tech ones) shops, drive-in theaters, gas stations and forget about them. I recently reviewed Andrew Moore: Detroit Disassembled, a fascinating photo book about the city with some amazing shots of buildings and their contents which were just abandoned.

Photographers like Eugene Richards and others headed for the Great Plains area where the human side of abandonment is scattered across the landscape and intimately visible when you step inside some of these homes. Lone houses from decades ago are slowly falling apart, more recent ones still keep the elements out but the thing I find intriguing is the amount of personal life that is left behind. Photos, letters and other personal possessions, clothing, appliances and household items are just left. Perhaps there is only so much that can be loaded into a pick-up and everyone must have had some form of transport to live here.

Eugene Richards, with his first color book, explores sparsely populated rural America with sensitivity and curiosity but I found so many of these photos seemed trapped in a format of showing decay and being arty at the same time. There are too many shots of confusing compositions involving curtains and window reflections mixing the exterior and interior of rooms, too many really tight close-ups of objects: dolls faces, torn photos or a wall clock. Too few photos of the overall scene: a family room, bedroom or kitchen where you can see two or three walls which pull into focus the decaying structure, rusting appliances and personal effects scattered around on every flat surface and slowly morphing into rubbish.

I think the photos by Steve Fitch in his Gone: Photographs of Abandonment on the High Plains capture the feel of decaying houses on the Plains in a much more focused way. His shots have pulled back from the specific tight detail in so many of Richards work to give a much more thought provoking view so that you feel you are in this room or just about to walk into that entrance. Fitch also managed to find and photograph houses that looked like they probably fell down soon after he left. Like some interesting Blue room photos his book also has some close-ups of family mementoes.

I don't know why Phaidon made The Blue room so large, a rather unwieldy sixteen by eleven inches, it's not as if the photos were full of precise detail like the street scenes of George Tice or the saturated detail of an Andreas Gursky photo. Most of Richards images have large color shapes which merge into other colors or fade into darkness. There are no really hard edges for the 300 screen to capture. The printing and paper are of the quality one would expect from Phaidon and also, typical of the publisher, the captions are all in the back pages instead of placing them on the blank left-hand pages opposite all the photos.

A couple of other books that I've enjoyed covering the decaying Plains are Ghosts in the Wilderness: Abandoned America by Tony Worobiec, mixing shots of the landscape (especially with rusting vehicles) and interiors of homes and commercial buildings. John Martin Campbell specifically looked at an historic period in his Magnificent Failure: A Portrait of the Western Homestead Era and with seventy black and white photos plus very detailed text recreates that rare book that makes a struggling way of life decades ago come alive for today's reader.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richarfs first work in color a success. 22 Feb 2009
By William J. Scharf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is Eugene Richards first work in color and it is a huge success. Very unlike his other work it focuses on abandond homes and farms in the midwest. The work is more romantic than work in the past and more metaphorical. It says more about the big picture of life in America than his more upfront and confrontational work. Worth the purchase and a great addition to any photo library. Another huge book from a master, in every way.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fragility of Human Life 29 Mar 2009
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For those who have followed the socially committed life and work of Eugene Richards, THE BLUE ROOM will serve as an infusion of joy. Long respected for his documentation of the 'atrocities of living' such as aging, poverty, drug addiction, death, cancer and mental illness, in this elegantly beautiful volume Richards offers some of the most achingly tender views of relics of human detritus.

Focusing on the Midwestern states of Kansas, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Arkansas and into the regions of New Mexico, Richards pauses at deserted homes and areas where life has stopped - areas where drought, the Great Depression, quashed dreams, and other misfortunes have left grave stones of sad history. Each color photograph is respectfully given a full page bleed, resting opposite and empty white facing page, a design technique very much in keeping with the vision of Eugene Richards in asking the reader/viewer to pause and pay respects and remember before passing on to the next little masterpiece.

This is a monograph of superb photographs by an artist who has made his life's mission one of asking for attention to the fault lines in our country. It is exquisitely beautiful art, but it is also powerful social commentary. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, March 09
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very weak binding-avoid! 12 May 2011
By R. Laurel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Unfortunately a photo book as a material product is an art in itself, and this one was very badly made. Because the size is very big, the pages got detached from the spine and so it became a damaged product even before I opened the box. This likely happened at the time the book was being wrapped in plastic. The design flaw is fatal. Avoid!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Color Photography 16 Aug 2009
By W. Rosen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Eugene Richards is mostly known for his black and white photography but this book makes me wish he had been producing more books of his color photography. This is an amazing collection of color work that fits in with Eggleston, Shore, Sternfeld, etc and is a classic in its own right. This is a large horizontal format, thick, and highly recommended.
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