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The Give and Take of Portraiture

A Changing World: New England in the Photographs of Verner Reed, 1950-1972

The Give and Take of Portraiture

Portraits offer a view into the relationship between sitter and photographer. Reed selected settings and angles that appealed to him, but, of course, the sitter also worked to create a desirable image. Reed's photographs of the famous and of other individuals are compelling. Some, like the artist Al Duca, were friends or acquaintances, but others were people he was assigned to cover. All of these images demonstrate the decisions that go into creating a portrait, which are shared by sitter and photographer alike.

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Audrey, Stowe, Vermont, 1949

This portrait is the earliest photograph in the exhibition. Although the sitter was never pleased with it, thinking it made her look too stern, for Reed it held all the promise of the medium he was just starting to understand. He knew the sitter, but still found that the photograph offered discoveries about her. It remains one of his personal favorites to this day.

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Self Portrait, Boston, 1953

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Robert Frost, Boston, 1954

The poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) was long associated with the New England states of Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. He became one of the best-known poets in the country. Reed took this picture for Life while covering the Boston Arts Festival.

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Al Duca, Boston, 1954

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T. S. Eliot, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1955

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948, earned both of his degrees from Harvard University, where he also went on to become the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry. Here he is shown surrounded by his students at Harvard in a photograph that Reed made while on assignment for Life.

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Senator George Aiken, Putney, Vermont, 1956

George Aiken (1892-1984) was a U.S. senator for 34 years (1941-1975). Even so, he was fondly called Governor Aiken throughout his years in Washington, a carryover from his term as the Governor of Vermont (1937-1941). Aiken was a dedicated environmentalist. In 1984, Vermont designated a 5,000-acre park in the southern part of the state as the George D. Aiken Wilderness.

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Newport, Rhode Island, 1958

The Eisenhower years coincided with Reed's career with Life. Reed was often called upon to cover presidential visits in case something newsworthy occurred. He recalls the particular agony of this assignment in Newport: "The only reason I was there was because it was Life's policy to have a photographer on hand in case something should happen, but nothing ever happened. He came out in the morning and played golf and he went home and had a nap, then came out and played golf again."


 

A Changing World: New England in the Photographs of Verner Reed, 1950-1972 

Organized by Historic New England, Boston, Massachusetts 

All photographs are drawn from the collections of Historic New England, presented by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. They are part of the Verner Reed Archive, a collection of more than 26,000 negatives and prints, which was donated by Verner and Deborah Reed. 

John R. Stomberg served as guest curator of the original exhibition.


 

The Give and Take of Portraiture