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Eli Reed offers tips of the trade

Reed documented life in Harlem in the 1980s. Eli Reed
Reed documented life in Harlem in the 1980s. Eli Reed

Eli Reed offers tips of the trade

For photojournalist Eli Reed, capturing the moment requires patience and perseverance. The New Jersey-born Reed, who is now 70 years old, was the first African-American to join the prestigious Magnum Photos Cooperative, in 1988.

Reed’s talent has taken him all over the world, but he will travel to Cambodia for the first time for the Angkor Photo Festival, where works from his first career retrospective A Long Walk Home will be on display.

The book highlights over 250 images spanning Reed’s full career, and an eclectic range of his subjects. His knack for capturing both the beauty and the ugly side of humanity can be seen from his earliest work, which documents the lives and experiences of black Americans in the ’80s and ’90s.

Speaking via phone from Los Angeles, Reed says that his focus helped him overcome the adversity he faced in his career.

“You have to maintain your equilibrium. Do the work that is important to you,” he says. “If you get angry, then they have won, because that anger can distract you.”

With scant resources or creative opportunities, Cambodian photographers might face similar adversity. Reed points out that initiatives like the Angkor Photo Festival are important to develop their perspectives.

“Photography allows us to show something that people may otherwise be ignorant of,” he explains. “Who better to document what is going on in Cambodia than the Cambodian people themselves?”

Photographer Eli Reed’s book features an eclectic array of subjects. Eli Reed
Photographer Eli Reed’s book features an eclectic array of subjects. Eli Reed

As well as exhibiting a selection of his works, Reed will be a speaker at two presentations during the festival. Instruction comes naturally: he has worked as a professor at the Texas University School of Journalism since 2005.

Reed himself has had numerous mentors throughout his four-decade career. But he still emphasises the importance of trusting your own hand in photography.

“Egos be careful of egos,” he says. “You should never be out to please them, you should want to learn from them.”

As for Reed’s presentations, visitors might be in for a surprise. “I never know what I’m going to say until I step up to the mic,” he says.

Another surprise? Reed practices martial arts, and believes that it is something that has helped his photography work.

“You’ve got to welcome life. You must be in the moment in order to capture it,” he says.

When it comes to capturing elusive moments on film, he seems to have similar advice.

“Take a deep breath, look around you and don’t talk. If you pay attention, you can see moments developing,” Reed says. “Be ready. If you’re not paying attention, the train will leave the station without you.”

A Long Walk From Home will be on at the Royal Gardens on Sivatha Road from December 3 through 13.

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