I have come to understand a few things now. I survived the sometime wasted youth of my twenties and a shuffling through my thirties as I moved into the complexity of middle age. I made photographs of that time as part of the personal record. At 67, I inch closer to that doorway of the final trumpet call from the angel Gabriel. Some things have become clear to me in my time of visual engagement as a photographer. I started out as a serious student of the art of painting in pigment. Photography came to me with a different kind of brush and paint.
What is it that we dream in our brief illuminated time of consciousness? The realization and observation of possibility over a long period of time implies that the dead have beautiful dreams. I think of the death of my mother and what it meant to me. She was the subject of my very first photograph. I do not have the photograph. I have only the memory of her smile. That has been a good thing for me as I searched for beauty inside the visual framework of life.
Finding the point of connection with my dream-world and the actual reality I lived in seemed a distant impossibility for a while. I worked twenty-hour days for six years while learning my photographic craft and worked nights as a hospital orderly in a New York City hospital before stumbling into my first serious full-time photography job. It felt like a delayed dream that took me further away from reality and yet felt good at the time. The future was getting a little less clear but still full of possibility. The dreams were still in place.
Inherent beauty lives within the evolving arms of humanity. This beauty occasionally turns real at odd times in a photograph. Perhaps these collective images become a saving grace for the living. I find it difficult to see and remember these things because life gets in the way. I think about that sometimes in quiet moments of reflection and realize that I can live with that.
It started a long time ago when I was a child. It arrived with a few words from a popular song: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” I took those words seriously and they continue to inform my point of view as an image-maker. Many years later while photographing in Africa those lines flashed back unexpectedly like an LSD flashback. The act of photographing reality has always been my drug. That reality becomes part of the dream.
I believe the world is a complicated place. Once when I was on assignment with Paul Theroux in Africa, we had a long conversation about family. During the discussion, Paul said, “Do you realize that your father, who was born in the year 1900, was too young for World War I, too old for World War II, and yet went through some of the toughest times a black man could go through in the United States at that time?” Paul’s comment connected me with my father in a way that had not happened before. It propelled me to a new understanding of my father’s life. It’s an old story: the young think that they have it figured out, only to discover how little they actually know about their parents. It changes things in your life and perhaps it is what keeps you awake at night when you should be sleeping.
We hope for the beautiful dream deep within our private inner souls. Observation is the nexus between the life of the human species and the collateral imagery left behind by the occasional coherent photographer. My personal journey on this long road has been a meditation about what it means to be a human being, and I have tried to capture the complicated beauty and reality of life in a visual form. I started photographing early and the end-sight continues to evolve, not quite manageable, but dear to the heart in a clean-cut way.
Life moves on and work continues. I realize that I have learned much but at the same time I watch the ticking clock in despair. I learn from Father and Mother and from within my present day-to-day life - and the lessons continue. There is a limited explanation of why we are here, in my mind. The families of man, woman, and child are the reasons the dreams of the living are immortal and I keep listening, hoping and looking. I use my camera to freeze time and to make beautiful images that hopefully will find their way into my dreams to inspire the continuing movement within the circle. I continue the search and live and breathe and wonder at the beauty of it all.
Eli Reed, Paris, France, January 9, 2014