“All my life I been a working man; I was working as a sharecropper. Cotton crops I picked. Me and my family picked sometimes three, four, five bales a day. The bales weighed 500 pounds. But I wouldn’t see none, though, no sir. The big man kept most of the money. Always did. But I can’t work no more. About five, six years ago, I had my stroke. A stroke makes you real stiff, draws your mouth to the side … Well, it can kill you.
“My wife is young, 58. Some as young as she is, why, they forget about you. But she stay with me, through sickness and death, poorness and old. Now I like to sit out in the truck every day; keeps me away from the children. See, my grandchildren love me, they climb all up on me. Best, I like to sit out there by myself and let the wind blow through on me. I rest there and I be thinking about my old life, my past life. Sometimes, it makes me feel bad when I’m thinking about it. I wish I could get back, reach back to 40, and live from there on back up.”
From a 1986 interview with Will Davis of Hughes, Arkansas. Mr. Davis died later that year at age 80.
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