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The Photographer as Storyteller

The Photographer as Storyteller

Reed intended each of these images to work together with other photographs to tell a story in the context of a photo-essay. This section helps us recognize the rhetorical power of the medium--to see that photography has a point of view, shaped to varying degrees by the photographer, picture editor, and publication. Did Reed take sides in the Rosenberg trial demonstrations? Are the pictures of then-Senator John F. Kennedy sympathetic to, or critical of, the young politician? Reed's numerous photo essays show that he generally took seriously his responsibility to be an objective reporter. The image of Maine's Edmund S. Muskie waiting for gubernatorial election results could be seen as unflattering, but in combination with the sympathetic post-election photograph of him with his daughter, we realize that Reed attempted to be true to the story as he experienced it. Photographs shape our understanding of history, and some of Reed's photo-essays covered stories of obvious historical importance, such as the Rosenberg protest or JFK as senator. Others probably seemed less telling at the time, such as the shoot at the home of Tasha Tudor, a well-known children's book author, or the afternoon he spent at a country auction in Albany, Vermont. In retrospect, though, all of the images tell stories of what it meant to live in 1950s and 1960s New England.




On the day Reed took his first Kennedy photographs, he recalls Mrs. Kennedy telling him that Ashe was writing a book about a young senator on his way to the presidency. The allusion was obvious, but I didn't take any of it seriously. Over the coming years, Reed would cover Kennedy for both Life andTime, capturing the young senator in his office, on the street, and campaigning for Foster Furcolo (John Foster Furcolo, Governor of Massachusetts, 1957-1961). During the period when Reed photographed JFK, the story was still largely local. Kennedy came from a prominent Boston family, and his presidential aspirations were largely covert.


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ABOVE Senator and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Hyannisport, Massachusetts, 1955

ABOVE John F. Kennedy, Hyannisport, Massachusetts, 1955

ABOVE Senator John F. Kennedy, Foster Furcolo Parade, East Boston, 1956



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ABOVE John F. Kennedy in Phone Booth, Boston, 1957

ABOVE Boston's Finest, 1957

ABOVE John F. Kennedy at Newsstand, Boston, 1957






 Country Auction

Characteristically, Reed decided to focus on the people attending this rural antiques auction rather than the event itself. In these images, he seems particularly concerned with the people's post-auction emotions. As the adrenaline of the sale subsides, does the reality of life with one's new treasures live up to the earlier anticipation?


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ABOVE Antique Purchase, Albany, Vermont, 1951

ABOVE Keeping Dry, Albany, Vermont, 1951

ABOVE Couple at Auction, Albany, Vermont, 1951




In June 1953, Reed spent an afternoon photographing protesters in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who had been convicted in 1951 on espionage charges for passing secrets about nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union, were scheduled to be executed on June 19, 1953. The emotionally charged conflict spilled into the streets, where supporters of clemency clashed with those who favored the death penalty. A writer for Life magazine was trying to cover the story without the aid of a photographer. Seeing Reed, the reporter asked if he would be willing to cover the protests for him. Reed's acceptance marked the beginning of his six-year career as a photojournalist for Life.


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ABOVE Rosenberg Vigil I, Boston, 1953

ABOVE Rosenberg Vigil II, Boston, 1953

ABOVE Rosenberg Vigil III, Boston, 1953


ABOVE Rosenberg Vigil IV, Boston, 1953





Edmund S. Muskie started politics with a successful 1946 run for a seat in the Maine House of Representatives, where he served three consecutive terms. Here, Reed shows Muskie in his hometown on the day of the 1954 Maine gubernatorial election. Reed's pictures cover the story from the tension while the results were still coming in to the elation after they revealed Muskie had won. Like Kennedy, Muskie went on to a dramatic political career, becoming the first Democrat in Maine's history to be elected U.S. senator. He ran for president in 1968 and 1972, and finished his political career as Secretary of State in 1980-1981.


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ABOVE Edmund S. Muskie,
Rumford, Maine, 1954

ABOVE Edmund S. Muskie, with Daughter
Rumford, Maine, 1954



Tasha Tudor

This Life photo-essay, "A Wedding in a Land of Dolls," described the fanciful wedding of dolls at the home of children's book author Tasha Tudor. Tudor famously eschewed the trappings of modern living and created instead a carefully constructed world based on nostalgia for pre-modern America. Reed took advantage of his time at Tudor's house to capture not only the wedding, his assigned subject, but a bit of this remarkable family's way of life.


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ABOVE Girl with Wreath, Webster, 
New Hampshire, 1955

ABOVE Evening Chores, Webster, 
New Hampshire, 1955




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 Photographer as Storyteller