Richards' published photographs are mostly intended as a means of raising social awareness, have been characterized as "highly personal" and are both exhibited and published in a series of books. The first book was Few Comforts or Surprises (1973), a depiction of rural poverty in Arkansas; but it was his second book, the self-published Dorchester Days (1978), a "homecoming" to Dorchester, Massachusetts, where Richards had grown up, that won most attention. It is "an angry, bitter book", both political and personal. Gerry Badger writes that "[Richards's] involvement with the people he is photographing is total, and he is one of the best of photojournalists in getting that across, often helped by his own prose".
With Dorothea Lynch. Exploding into Life. New York: Aperture in association with Many Voices Press, 1986. ISBN 0-89381-177-7.
Below the Line: Living Poor in America. Mount Vernon, NY: Consumers Union, 1987. ISBN 0-89043-061-6 (paperback); ISBN 0-89043-062-4 (hardback). Text ed. Christiane Bird, story researched by Janine Altongy.
The Knife and Gun Club: Scenes from an Emergency Room. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989. ISBN 0-87113-255-9. 2nd ed. 1995.