When politicians and pundits talk about the heartland, or the heart of the country, they’re generally not pandering to places like Roger Richardson’s Middletown, which is located in Orange County, in New York’s Hudson Valley. Yet the people and places in Let Me Sow Love exist right smack in the middle of myriad 21st-century American realities. Refreshingly, though, there’s not so much as a whiff of polemic in Richardson’s photographs. As the title suggests, this is a book full of what feel like genuine and compassionate interactions and engagements, as opposed to the now-expected confrontations. You sense right away that Richardson knows this place intimately, and these are his people. As a result, Let Me Sow Love presents with remarkable clarity a compelling portrait of an utterly realistic human community at a unique and radically insecure moment in the country’s history.
The late Philip Levine, arguably the greatest working-class poet of the late 20th century, once said that his goal was to write poems so transparent that “no words are noticed. You look through them into a vision of the people, the place.” Time and again, Richardson realizes Levine’s vision through his photographs, and it’s a vision that will be achingly familiar to anyone who grew up in or has spent time in strikingly similar working-class cities and towns all over the United States.