Photojournalism professor releases retrospective photo book

Mary Cantrell

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.”