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Monday, June 23, 2008

Eli Reed - Powerful Simplicity

Magnum photographer Eli Reed reveals his technique for capturing the elusive moment, and why he'll always shoot film, at least in black-and-white

The Truth Is Out There
Reed admits that what bestows truth on any given image is all up to the photographer. It's seeing beyond the surface of events as they unfold.

“If you put yourself in a straight line, you'll get good images—but it's also a very safe way to operate visually,” says Reed. “In a contradictory way, that approach is ignorance because it's the easy way out. It's much, much harder to investigate what's rippling beneath the surface and, at the heart of it, that's what truly separates the best from the rest.” Reed offers John Moore as an example of a first-class photographer, a recent recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in photography in the Breaking News Category for coverage of the conflict in Iraq.

“He's the epitome of the modern photographer,” says Reed. “He's really smart, doesn't run in with the wrong attitude and lets his images do the talking. The strength of the image comes from the strength of the photographer. It's all about character. I think that's what defines the image.”

Other photographers who Reed feels have the edge include Patrick Zachmann, a Magnum member since 1990. Dedicated to long-term projects on cultural identity, memory and immigration, Zachmann is probably best remembered, so far, for his stunning reportage in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, which was widely published in the international press.
Shooting stills alongside legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins on A Beautiful Mind and director John Singleton on Baby Boy helps keep Reed motivated. But his own work ended up being the inspiration for Deakins on A Beautiful Mind.

“The key for Zachmann in Beijing was photographing a tragic event, but photographing it like it was Woodstock,” says Reed. “These are the kind of images that people must see, and his approach worked extremely well because his images will forever be remembered—all because the event was captured with an original vision.” It's an approach Reed believes we can all learn from—the ability to have and exercise your own point of view.

“In this way, you don't deliver what is known, you deliver what you find out, and that's a really important, really critical detail,” he says. So if this approach is familiar to Reed, surely his images are constantly alive with an alert sense of the present? “It's a challenge all the time, every day,” he admits. “For me, it has been the requirement to integrate and use different approaches, but I still curse myself every night. Every bit of work I do—I'm sort of pissed off with it eventually because I wonder why did I make myself so rigid.”

The Future
And yet, besides his own griping, Reed has established himself as a photographic force in the new millennium, in a world drastically different from the early days of Magnum following World War II.

“Everything has to change, and it's a new generation,” says Reed on Magnum today. “But when given a challenge, I think Magnum photographers rise to that challenge because that's what got them into this place: the fact that they were thinking differently, not just photographing the acceptable. There has never been a collection of images the likes of what Magnum has done, and it's sure to continue.”

Eli Reed has been with the elite Magnum Photos since 1982. He has worked on assignment for national and international publications covering world news events. A Clinical Professor of Photojournalism at the University of Texas, Reed is currently in the process of directing a nonfiction feature film.

Reed's Gear
If you were to go on assignment and had little time to grab your gear, what would it be?
“I would grab my Olympus E-3 camera with the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm ƒ/2.8-4 (in film 35mm, it would be 24-120mm), Zuiko Digital 50-200mm ƒ/2.8-3.5 (in film 35mm, it would be 100-400mm) and the Olympus strobe. The backup camera to remain in my very small camera bag would be the Olympus 510.”


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