Eli Reed

Photojournalism professor Eli Reed recently released his book, “A Long Walk Home,” which chronicles his experiences through 261 black-and-white images in an attempt to represent what it means to be human. Reed’s images will be exhibited at the Leica Gallery in SoHo, New York, and will run until the end of June.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Photojournalism professor Eli Reed’s sharp eye and natural curiosity keep him behind the lens and on the move. From violence in war-torn Lebanon to portraits of Hollywood movie stars, he has captured meaningful moments around the world. 

In his retrospective photo book, “A Long Walk Home,” released May 4, the Magnum photographer chronicled a wide range of life experiences through 261 black and white images, which he said represented what it means to be a human being.

“It’s not something that’s just flowery,” Reed said. “I want to get people to think.” 

Reed’s 40-year career has taken him from his hometown in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, to witness dramatic struggles and scenes of everyday life in countries around the world. Reed’s photographs will be exhibited at the Leica Gallery in SoHo, New York, which opens Thursday and runs through June 20.

At 68, Reed cannot flip through his book without pausing to tell a story or two about his adventures. Each image, from a soldier blissed out amongst hippies to two bratty kids peering through a window, has a rich story behind it.

“I didn’t just want to do a retrospective of my favorite pictures,” Reed said. “Everything that’s ever been written, shot or filmed, wouldn’t you want to know what’s going on and see it?” 

Reed is rarely seen without his signature mammoth tusk necklace or Sony camera strapped to his side, always ready to snap a photo at a moment’s notice. Reed said his job as a photographer is to document history and answer life’s basic questions.

“In a way, all photographers are aliens; all writers are aliens,” Reed said. “Because you observe stuff and report back to the masses.”

Reed dedicated “A Long Walk Home” to his mother and father. The preface of the book reads like an intimate letter to his mother, who died when he was 12. Reed calls it his “personal poem.” 

“I have tried to capture the complicated beauty of life in a visual form,” Reed wrote. “I continue the search and live and breathe and wonder at the beauty of it all.” 

Colleen Devine Ellis, the UT Press publicist behind Reed’s book, said his work stands out among the four to five photography books they publish a year because the photographs span across a large time period and cover such a wide range subjects. She said Reed’s technical skills and unique perspective result in truly affecting images.  

“There’s a lot of emotion and sensitivity in his photos,” Ellis said. “His concern with the poor and with children, [especially]. He treats those subjects with a lot of sensitivity and respect.” 

When Reed is not off on an assignment, he’s in front of the classroom teaching. He hopes his students learn how to follow their instincts and form their own opinions about photography. 

“The biggest thing is thinking past this technical stuff — understanding the value of saying something and not just being like everyone else,” Reed said. 

Photojournalism senior Hannah Vickers took Reed’s darkroom class when she first arrived at UT. She said having Reed as a professor taught her to constantly seek out new perspectives because although everyone has a camera, not everyone is a photojournalist. 

“He opened my eyes to the fact that only the people who are working the hardest will succeed,” Vickers said. “I feel like being taught under him has given me the idea that you should always strive to be different.” 

Reed said moments that reveal the human spirit inspire him. He said he is interested in how people live their lives and the legacies they leave behind. 

“I don’t look for a commonality,” Reed said. “Everyone has their preconceived notions, but you have to look past that and see what is the reality.” 

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalists and UT alumni Judy Walgren (left), Lucian Perkins and Meredith Kohut speak about their photojournalism careers at the Belo Center for New Media. Throughout the discussion, each of the panelist said that photography it is much more than having a photographic eye, but more about connecting to the people they photograph.

Photo Credit: Claire Schaper | Daily Texan Staff

Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalists Lucian Perkins, Judy Walgren, as well as famed photojournalists Eli Reed, Dennis Darling and Meredith Kohut talked about their experiences in photojournalism at a panel discussion in the Belo Center for New Media on Thursday.

At the “Through the Lens” panel, hosted by the School of Journalism, Perkins spoke about the beginning of his career, when he was a photojournalist for The Daily Texan. He said one of the greatest internships he had was at The Washington Post. Besides doing what was asked of him at the internship, he was constantly looking for stories to pitch. He said his experience at the internship led to a job at the Post for 27 years.

“It’s all about ideas,” Perkins said. “And educating yourself to go where you want to go.”

According to Walgren, one of her first projects was looking for hidden wars. She said these wars were hidden mostly because it was difficult to cover those wars.

She showed photographs she took in Africa and Colorado and said they document how people would live around these places despite the conflicts that surrounded them.

“I found out that photojournalism is sheer will,” Walgren said. “I didn’t have a good eye at photography. I just wanted to change the world.”

Kohut said she took pictures of children going across the Guatemalan border. She said she found out it was not an immigration crisis, but that the children were refugees. Kohut said it was challenging for her to tell that story.

“You have figure out how to make things work,” Kohut said. “It’s not about being able to take a picture but about being able to solve problems.”

Perkins talked about an assignment in Macedonia that involved refugees from the region. He said he realized that government corruption could cause conflict almost anywhere. 

Freelance photojournalist Felicia Graham said part of the job of a photojournalist is to deliver a product no matter the location.

“I do think it is difficult to shoot at different locations, while being a photojournalist,” Graham said. “But you cannot publish an excuse. We have a job in which we can’t just not show up. When it comes to photojournalism, you have to be there.”

Photographer Eli Reed normally lets his photos do the talking, but he made an exception during a presentation Wednesday about the Harry Ransom Center’s Magnum Archive Collection. Reed, a UT photojournalism professor and Magnum photographer, has many of his own photos on display along with hundreds of others at the center. Magnum Photos is a renowned and innovative photographic cooperative that has covered major events of the 20th century, according to the Ransom Center website. The Ransom Center acquired and announced the Magnum Archive Collection a year ago. Reed was the first Magnum photographer to be admitted while working at a newspaper. He gave his audience at Wednesday’s talk the history behind many of his photos in the collection, with diverse subjects ranging from the Lost Boys of Sudan to a recent vacation in New Zealand. “Every picture has a story, but I can’t tell you every one because we’ll be here all night,” Reed said. He first attracted Magnum in 1982 through his work for the San Francisco Examiner on death squads in Central America. “I always wanted to see more of the world than what I was allowed to see,” Reed said. “The way I did that was through my camera.” Reed said he was scared when he first went into Central America for two months. He said it was a very dangerous job and that he was often mistaken for being Cuban since he is black. He said in El Salvador, they don’t like journalists because some of them do not tell the truth. “The event that will have a lasting impression is always going to be the next event,” Reed said. “You have no idea what it’s going to be.” Reed said he could shoot for an hour in the corner of the room and still find interesting shots to look at. David Coleman, curator of photography at the Ransom Center, said the Magnum collection has been very popular, especially during its first six months. “There’s a general curiosity from the public,” Coleman said. “They’re very interested in seeing the range of work from those photographers.” Coleman said having the collection on campus is a great opportunity for students and faculty. “Students and faculty can see the premier photo agency in the world with its famous photographer members’ works,” Coleman said. “It’s an elite organization, and they have covered a huge range of topics and subjects from the 1930s to the mid 2000s.” Karen Kiessling, who attended the presentation, said she admired Reed’s enthusiasm for his photography. She said she is not a photographer but understands the art and beauty behind each of Reed’s photos. “It’s one thing to work on the movies and take pictures of beautiful people, but it’s another thing to walk and look at the rest of us, who are ordinary, and find beauty in those pictures,” Kiessling said. “I loved the [pictures] that told stories even if they were dreadful stories or sad stories. It’s all about emotion, and you really get those feelings.”