by Eli Reed / Magnum
A Multimedia Presentation
Introduction by Dirck Halstead
Eli Reed is a case study in how photojournalists can follow their hearts, do good work, and still make a living.
As a Magnum photographer, Eli has done major projects and books for a broad spectrum of clients: from Life and National Geographic magazines, to Save the Children Foundation, and Doctors Without Borders. In order to support his photojournalistic pursuits, he has worked on many films, for such directors as John Singleton, Robert Townsend, Spike Lee, and Robert Altman. While doing this he has gained a reputation as one of the best photographers in the motion picture industry.
It takes a special kind of talent to move between the worlds of journalism and show business. It also takes a special kind of humility, and a passion for storytelling to make it in both worlds. Eli has these qualities.
Growing up in Perth Amboy, NJ, the first picture he took was of his mother - he was nine years old. She died a year later, and that photograph became an anchor for him. When he was in high school, he took Judo classes, which he credits for his ability to calm down in difficult situations. He graduated from art school in the mid-sixties, and watched in wonder as such photographers as Larry Burrows, W. Eugene Smith and Bill Eppridge were defining the era. "It just seemed like these guys with their cameras knew what was going to happen next."
Before long, Eli was making that same voyage. Whether it was in places like Beirut during the war, or in teen pregnancy clinics, or with the homeless on America's streets - he was there telling stories.
He grew up with the great newsmagazines Life and Look on newsstands. But today, he no longer thinks about that kind of publication supporting his projects. "I don't even worry about where the story is going to go anymore." Like many Magnum photographers, he turns to more commercial clients such as movie studios, to pay the rent, while he lines up his next project. "I work on movies when I get broke," he told us.
On the set, he studies the way directors shape the story, and learns from the writers, the directors of photography, and the actors. At the same time, the movie makers are learning from Eli. Robert Altman commissioned Eli to do a portfolio on musicians for his film Kansas City.
At 53, Eli can't wait to see what happens next. "We are lucky right now. This is the year 2000. At the beginning of centuries, and at the end, lots of things happen. People may not be aware of it at the time, but these things make a difference that color the rest of that century. The way communications are going now, I wouldn't want to be at any other point in time than I am now...this is the time to appreciate the future that is coming."
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