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The Vital City

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

The Vital City

For Reed, the excitement of the city was best represented by its inhabitants. Most of his urban photography focused on the activities of the people on Boston streets. Reed's quick reflexes and keen eye made him a natural street photographer. He was often drawn to the telling casual moments that appear to those who have spent time looking for them. Citing French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson as his chief influence, Reed looked for what Cartier-Bresson described as the "decisive moment," when several factors coalesce to tell a story in an instant.

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Old North Church, Boston, 1954

The steeple of Boston's Old North Church was seriously damaged by Hurricane Carol on August 31, 1954. The rebuilding of the steeple was a matter of great civic pride in the city. This was the church from which patriots signaled with lanterns to Paul Revere that the British were marching to Concord and Lexington.

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Mount Vernon Street Reflections, Boston, 1955

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Mount Vernon Street Repairs, Boston, 1955

This image depicts a ditch-digger in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood being persistently ignored by three fur-clad women. Reed's instincts drew him to the contrast between the worker and the resident.

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Boston Vendor, 1955

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North End, Boston, 1955

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Organ Grinder, Boston, 1955

Reed remembers well the afternoon he made this photograph. Every time he had the shot just right, the boy on the left would jump into the picture. Reed's frustration over this intrusion kept him from printing the image for many years. Yet, now we find that the boy adds a spark of interest. Reed is not allowed to be the sole observer--the boy's defiant gaze demands our attention and subverts any nostalgia that might have come from the organ grinder's image alone. Other bystanders add to the sense that the usual roles in street photography have been reversed--they watch Reed even as he watches them.


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Boston Globe, Boston, 1956

For eighty-seven years, the Boston Globe headquarters was located on "Newspaper Row," a section of Washington Street in downtown Boston, before moving to Dorchester in 1958. Until then, for many Bostonians, part of any day included catching the latest news before it was printed. Here we can see the most recent headlines scrawled in chalk for passersby to see.


 

 

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 Vital City