You don’t get much more old-school than Eli Reed. His photographs, in gritty black-and-white, document lives that are hard-bitten and all too often brief.
Reed’s work, much of it for the celebrated Magnum photo agency, is the focus of a two-part retrospective at the Leica Store DC. A few of Reed’s images stem from his work in Hollywood, and a few track political figures (including Dick Gregory and Nehru-jacket-era Marion Barry, right). But in the selection currently on view—the second of the two installments at the store’s gallery—Reed’s most consistent theme is heartbreak.
His work takes him from a rutted-out sugarcane field in El Salvador to a shack in northern Louisiana where a child’s ill-fitting clothes are barely concealed by the flimsy mesh of a screen door. A homeless mother in St. Louis tries to bed down with her children in a cramped car (bottom), while a Rwandan child in a Tanzanian refugee camp is shown with weary eyes set into a too-skeletal head.
The moments of uplift in Reed’s work are sporadic, though not entirely absent. In one image, a groom and ringbearer
in Beaufort, S.C., await a wedding with nervous anticipation, each of them sporting a spotless white tuxedo. In another image, members of a boys’ choir are captured—transcendently—mid-song.
A rare few of Reed’s images manage to meld an overall gloom with a sliver of hope. One photograph, depicting a grandmother and child in a ramshackle home in Nicaragua, is softened by the intuitive, familial connection between the two figures, laid bare by something as simple as their mutual glance.
Then there’s the image of a sex worker seated in her chaotic apartment; the caption emphasizes her desire to find a way out of her current life. Sadly, we never find out if she succeeded.
Through Sept. 18 at Leica Store DC, 977 F St. NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 787-5900. Mon.-Wed. 10 a .m.-6 p.m., Thurs.-Fri. 10 a .m.-7 p.m., Sat 10 a .m.-6 p.m., Sun Noon-5 p.m..