Even the most exacting photographers tend to acknowledge the magic of chance. There are moments in a photographer’s career in which innate ability and training allow him or her to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. The resulting image is often one that could never be planned for or dreamed of.
If writer Paul Theroux is to be believed, Eli Reed’s life has been a bit like this: A combination of ability and hard work enabled the photographer to take advantage of some truly wonderful chances. In Theroux’s introduction to A Long Walk Home (University of Texas Press, 2015), Eli Reed‘s new retrospective book, he describes Reed’s childhood in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, among “tough kids,” and the serendipitous encounters that set him on his path: An art critic happened to see one of Reed’s early paintings and encouraged him to pursue a creative career; Reed met photographer Donald Greenhaus, an early mentor, on the street in New York City.
From those early chances, Reed built a remarkable life. He has photographed conflict in places like Beirut and El Salvador; civil unrest and people struggling in poverty in American cities and rural areas; presidents and celebrities; and so much more.
Reed divides his book into geographic and thematic chapters, moving from the Middle East to Africa to the U.S. and Central America, from Hollywood to “Innocence Lost.” One short chapter, “Save the Children,” emphasizes the attention Reed paid to children in his work, and the chapter ends with a portrait of Reed as an adult.
“My personal journey on this long road has been a meditation about what it means to be a human being,” Reed writes in the book’s preface, “and I have tried to capture the complicated beauty and reality of life in a visual form.”