During the hot summer months of 2020, especially in the weeks following the May 25th killing of George Floyd while in police custody, the Magnum Photos, Inc. Photography Collection was often on my mind. The scenes of protest that we witnessed, in countless cities across the United States and the world, reminded me of the iconic Civil Rights Movement images that Magnum’s photographers created. Burt Glinn in 1957 Little Rock, Eve Arnold at the 1961 Black Muslim rally, Danny Lyon at 1963 SNCC sit-ins, Leonard Freed at the 1963 March on Washington, Bruce Davidson at the 1965 Selma march: These images, and many more, documented the epic Black struggle to achieve greater social justice, a struggle that so obviously continues. [Read more…] about The camera as a weapon against racial injustice: Eli Reed’s Black In America
The exhibition Eli Reed: The Lost Boys of Sudan is on view at the Ransom Center through December 8.
In the above video, Eli Reed, Magum photographer and a clinical professor of journalism at The University of Texas at Austin, discusses his career and working methods.
In 2001, Reed traced the path of some of the more than 20,000 “Lost Boys,” as aid workers have called them, some as young as five years old, forced to flee after their families were massacred or enslaved during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Wandering the equatorial wilderness between Sudan and Ethiopia for years on foot, those who survived starvation and disease eventually reached a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, where over 3,000 of them awaited resettlement through a United Nations partnership with the U.S. State Department. Reed’s powerful series documents their journey as they leave the camp and adjust to life in the United States, acclimating to a starkly different culture and a new world of formidable challenges.
Additional photographs by Reed from his 1995 series Rwandan Refugees in Tanzania are on view as part of the exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.
Eli Reed has worked as a professional photographer with Magnum Photos since 1988 and as a clinical professor of journalism at The University of Texas at Austin since 2005. To Reed, his success directly results from the simple motivating question, “Why would you want to be less than what you can be?”
Throughout his career, Reed’s understanding of his potential has been bolstered by his active relentlessness. “You’ve got to do this work because you really want to do it,” he said. “It’s not necessarily going to happen easily. It’s not going to happen ‘just because.” Reed’s combined vision and dedication has driven his career from newspaper journalism to international photography in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.
Perhaps more significantly, Reed insisted, he knows when to say yes. “You get… in to various situations because of you,” he said, “You make the decisions, and it’s important [to know] when to say yes. We’re all living on borrowed time from the day we’re born to the day we pass away, so what are you going to do before you go?” Reed strives to share this lesson with his students, emphasizing what seems to be his mantra in both photography and life at large: “Awareness is everything.”
It was Reed’s awareness that first led him to Sudan in 2001. The photographer was asked to join a film crew to document the Lost Boys, young refugees from the Second Sudanese Civil War. Although he was already particularly interested in Africa, Reed said the opportunity to travel there arose because he was “paying attention,” and he hopes his audience will do the same. The goal of the photo documentary of the Lost Boys, he explained, is “to educate people” and to spark interest in and action on their behalf. A dozen photographs are on display at the Harry Ransom Center through December 8 in an exhibit entitled Eli Reed: The Lost Boys of Sudan.
Ultimately, all aspects of Reed’s profession stem from a single motivation: to “pass on” information and experience, either through the classroom or professional photography.
“I’ve had a really interesting life,” he said, “I’ve seen a lot of people in different situations… and some terrible things happen, and some wonderful things happen, and it’s called the ‘Circle of Life.’ I can’t think of a better thing to do than, not just to share it, but to help people who are going on into this ‘Brave New World.’”