About The Book
“There is this unrecognized, unappreciated thing that goes on in here. The wife that I divorced never had, will never have any appreciation of this place, of the terrible things and the wonderful things that happen. I’ve told her, but I don’t think anybody could know unless they spend time here to see the tears, the laughter, the boredom, the blood.” –John Yakovich, M.D.
Combining the words of the people who work there and photographs that expose its very soul, award-winning photojournalist Eugene Richards explores the emergency room of a big-city hospital. Dubbed the “knife and gun club” by local residents, the ER of Denver General Hospital is an acclaimed, albeit controversial, health-care facility. Richards first went there to do a report on emergency medicine for a magazine, but when the assignment was finished he knew he couldn’t stay away; he returned again and again, working twelve- to twenty-four days in the facility’s trauma and medicine rooms and out in the ambulances. A witness to terrible pain, to life-and-death decisions, and to occasional joy, Richards came to view the emergency room as a microcosm of life, where the restarting of a stopped heart hold the promise of the future, where a six-hour gunshot-wound emergency carries the hurt of assassination and war.
In The Knife and Gun Club are images and sounds of violence and healing, suffering and humor, birth and death. From the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and health aides come startlingly personal revelations about their lives in medicine. They speak openly about the fear of failure, malpractice, alcohol and drug abuse among patients and health professionals, euthanasia, AIDS, the discrepancy in quality of care for the rich and the poor. And they reveal what is required for their own survival. For some it is an elemental toughness that allows them to work in this most stressful world, that keeps their spirits from being broken. A doctor told Richards one night, as the sirens screamed and the action swirled around them, “People come here to die, and a lot of people do just that. But you didn’t do good if you didn’t try to save them.”
The Knife and Gun Club is by turns an oral history, an adventure, and theater. It is a complex human drama empowered by bold and unflinching photographs.
“There may be more emotion per square foot in [an emergency room] than anywhere else, and this extraordinary book captures that intensity. Richards . . . produced the book after spending about seven weeks in Denver General Hospital’s emergency room and ambulances. The 105 photographs he includes and the accompanying text (mostly interviews with hospital personnel and transcripts of dialogue or radio communication) generate a palpable sense of place.” –People
“This is photojournalism at its best. . . . Richards is to the 1980s what Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa and Eugene Smith were to earlier eras.” –The Wall Street Journal
“An unflinching oral history that captures the pervasive despair of life in America’s decaying inner cities.” –The Washington Post
“In the manner of Studs Terkel, [Richards] elicited an oral history of the emergency room; and in the manner of W. Eugene Smith, he recorded it with his camera. . . . Eugene Richards is in many ways the successor to Eugene Smith as the leading photojournalist of his day.” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“The words are brutal and the photographs searing. It is compelling.” –The Denver Post
“A modern-day version of Dante’s Inferno. Dante’s visions of hell were in his imagination: unfortunately, Richard’s camera caught scenes only too true: doctors, nurses, paramedics, and society’s victims of the asphalt jungle. Richards has become the social-visual commentator on contemporary American life, with an unblinking eye and a compassionate heart.” –Cornell Capa