One of the more visible problems in America, whether it’s in New York City or on California’s west coast, is the extreme social divide – and no one captures it better than photographer Eli Reed.
His recent exhibition, Eli Reed: A Long Walk Home, at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles is a retrospective of his work. Consisting of over 250 images that span the full range of his subjects and his evolution as a photographer, Reed’s photographs are a visual summation of the people on opposite ends of the social scale, along with his quest to understand the human condition.
Beginning in the 1970s and culminating in the early 21st century, Reed captures images of people living in extreme poverty, affluence, and the spaces in between. Photographs of desperate black men and woman living on housing projects in San Francisco are juxtaposed with labourers in Detroit’s meatpacking district. Sex workers in various black, inner-city ghettos across America are documented – their agonizing facial expressions are captured with a bleak vividness.
During a set of thought provoking portraits shot in Harlem, the social, political and cultural implications of life in America’s black ghettos evoke a real emotive response. Dual images show a New York poet on top of a building before and after shooting up drugs. Another illustrates scores of children playing in burned out cars and abandoned buildings.
Much of Reed’s work powerfully depicts the contrast between rich and poor, but the photo that appears to embody these themes best is the silhouette of a couple standing in front of a building in Harlem’s 125th Street. Their faces are slightly obscured and they are dwarfed by a huge glass office block. The image exemplifies how regeneration in corporate America in the 21st century has spread throughout the inner city ghetto fracturing communities and displacing families. The show also contains his arresting images of his work in war torn Lebanon and El Salvador, and contrastly, portraits of Hollywood movie stars.
By Ray Kinsella
Eli Reed’s A Long Walk Home at the Leica Gallery, Beverly Boulevard Los Angeles