About Harvey Richards

Harvey Richards, filmmaker and photographer

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Harvey Richards, 1954. Photo by Imogene Cunningham

Harvey Richards began using a camera in the 1950s when he was in his mid-forties. He became a photographer after years of working as a machinist in the San Francisco shipyards, and as a merchant seaman sailing the Pacific, Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. Before moving to San Francisco in 1940, Richards also worked as a union organizer in Philadelphia and Boston.

His photography began with a 35-millimeter still camera and a radical worker’s awareness of worldwide issues. By 1960 he built a photographic studio with a darkroom to develop film and print pictures. Before long, he augmented his still equipment with motion picture cameras—first, the hand wound Bolex 16 millimeter camera and then, the Arriflex battery powered camera with synchronous sound capabilities. Sound and film editing followed with recording equipment, tripods and an editing studio.

Documentary films

Throughout the 1960s, it was a common sight at local demonstrations of any size to see Richards standing atop his station wagon or van, two still cameras around his neck, looking through a tripod mounted motion picture camera.

During his most active years as a photographer, from 1958 to 1978, Harvey Richards produced twenty two films on many subjects including farm labor, the civil rights movement locally and in the southern U.S., and the peace and anti-war movements. His long time concern for the environment led to films exposing the wasteful forestry practices going on nationally, especially in northern California and in Oregon, where he was born and raised.

For more detail, see Primary Source Documentaries: The Making of We’ll Never Turn Back (1963) and Dream Deferred (1964) (PDF).

Still photography

Most of his still photography was taken during his twenty-two motion picture projects. As a movement photographer, Richards went to the front lines of social conflict in the early years of the 1960s when the struggles for social justice were largely ignored and needed some good press. As time went on, the media discovered that the Movement was newsworthy and gave major coverage to civil rights and anti-war protests. At first, Richards’ camera was one of a small number photographing the picket lines. As the crowds of media persons grew larger, Richards moved on to the next project.

His organizing films and documentaries have been seen by unknown numbers of workers, students and others, here and abroad, largely through private distribution to organizations, libraries and schools. His still photography has appeared on leaflets, in newspapers, magazines, and books. Critical Focus: The Black and White Photographs of Harvey Wilson Richards by Paul Richards is the first collection of Harvey Richards’ photography to appear in book form.  Since 1987, his films and photos have been licensed for use in over 70 documentaries, TV productions, books, magazines, and exhibits.

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