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photo-eye Book Reviews: War is Personal

War is Personal Photographs by Eugene Richards. 
Published by University of Texas Press, 2010.

War is Personal
Reviewed by George Slade
Eugene Richards War is Personal
University of Texas Press, Austin 2010. Hardbound. 240 pp., 102 black & white illustrations, 8-1/2x11".

Damn. Damn. Damn. War in general. This war. This mentality that proposes war as a solution to geo-political conflict.

There aren't many photobooks that leave me in tears. But this one did. From anger, hopelessness, rage, and despair. From my own sense of loss, from caring interrupted. From a desire that everyone who ever voted for combat, or who profited from it, have a copy of this book handcuffed to them as a reminder that big numbers are comprised of scores of individual lives; and from futility, that such a gesture would have come too late, that this powerfully moving book would encounter blind eyes and deaf ears.

War Is Personal, by Eugene Richards. Published by University Of Texas Press, 2010.

War Is Personal, by Eugene Richards. Published by University Of Texas Press, 2010.
Through the specific we comprehend the universal. Through the personal we intuit the generic. But do the generals grasp the meanings of these lives? There are fifteen chapters in this book, fifteen people named and countless more affected in radiating rings around them. The settings range from West Coast to East, from Canada to Kansas City. Some of the names now identify deceased people, some perhaps would be better off dead. All are gruesomely maimed, physically, psychologically, emotionally, or all three. Richards never shies away from the hardest truths; here, his images are sparse and potent, and matched with words that interpret and amplify the damage wrought.

War Is Personal, by Eugene Richards. Published by University Of Texas Press, 2010.
I wish these images, this book, didn't exist, couldn't have been made because the decisions that led to the damage in these lives were themselves never made. Richards' work shows, too forcefully, the costs of waging war. Is it naïve to imagine that photographs can effect change? I hope not, but fear so.—George Slade

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George Slade, a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is the programs manager and curator at the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University. He continues to post content on his blog, re:photographica.