No review of the history of the Hickory region over the past 50 years would be complete without a peek into Robert C. Reed’s photographic archives.
In his role as senior photojournalist for the Hickory Daily Record, Reed chronicled all facets of life in the Catawba Valley – the mundane and the memorable, the tragic and the triumphant, the calm and the chaotic.
Visitors to the Hickory Museum of Art in the coming months will be treated to a sample of Reed’s work. From May 7 to September 11, the retrospective will feature over 100 images from six decades.
Hickory Art Museum executive director Jon Carfagno said they felt Reed’s work fit well with the community theme they sought to emphasize with their spring shows.
“Robert told the stories of our region with such authenticity and cunning that we felt it only made sense for him to be one of the focal points of this season,” Carfagno said.
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Originally from Hickory, Reed began freelancing for the Record while a student at Hickory High School in 1975. He was still a student when he took the photo that launched his career as a photojournalist, a photo which will be presented in the exhibition.
In January 1976, a white student threw a cookie in the cafeteria. Reed recalled that the boy was aiming for his girlfriend but he landed on a table where a group of black students were sitting.
The incident came at a low point in race relations in Hickory and a fight broke out in the cafeteria. The police were called and school was canceled for the day.
When Hickory Daily Record photographer Michael Patrick arrived at school, he went to see Reed.
“Did you shoot anything? Patrick asked.
“Of course I shot,” Reed said. Patrick replied, “You come with me. Let’s go.”
Reed’s photos were featured in the Record and were passed on to The Associated Press.
It will be some time before Reed is officially hired as a photographer, but he credits this photo with helping him get his foot in the door at a time in the post-Watergate era when journalism was a field. required.
While the incident helped Reed start one career, it nearly ended another, namely his high school career.
Reed said the then-manager threatened him with expulsion for taking and forwarding the dining room photo. A phone call from record publisher Mildred Gifford to the superintendent ended that, Reed said.
Those who come to see the retrospective of Reed’s work will get a glimpse of the full spectrum of life in Hickory and the surrounding region.
There will be a taste of what Reed calls “the bad side of my job” – the shootings, stabbings, fires and car wrecks that often make for compelling images.
Getting those memorable snaps can be risky.
About a decade ago, Reed was covering a standoff between a fugitive couple and Catawba County deputies when the couple drove around a barricade. Officers opened fire.
“They were getting closer,” Reed said. “Luckily they stopped shooting when they saw we were in the line of fire, which was a good day.” An award-winning photo that Reed produced that day is also part of the exhibit.
Reed says the biggest story he has covered in his career is the murder case of Zahra Baker, a 10-year-old Australian woman who was murdered in Hickory by her stepmother Elisa.
The Zahra Baker saga is represented in the exhibit by a photo of Elisa Baker making her first court appearance. Reed calls it her “Afghan Girl Photo,” a reference to the famous 1980s National Geographic photo of the green-eyed girl.
Although he recognizes the importance and significance of this photograph, Reed bristles at the idea that it would define his legacy.
“Even though he went all over the world, I would hate to be remembered for that shot,” Reed said.
Why would Reed want to be remembered? He wouldn’t mind if people associated it with another photo, also in the exhibit, taken in the late 1970s at the Hickory Library.
Captured around the same time the Hickory High cafeteria fight took place, the image shows a young black boy resting his head in a young white girl’s lap, his eyes fixed on a teacher reading a story.
Reed chokes as he remembers the photo. His eyes light up when he talks about an image of a girl in a box sledding down a hill by the Hickory Public Housing Authority.
He hopes the exhibit will give people the opportunity to have fun while learning about the moments that defined the region. Noting that he covered many generations in the area, Reed said visitors may even notice relatives or friends in some of the photos.
“I hope everyone takes a major history lesson from this in the area of some of the good things, some of the bad things, some of the great things that people see every day,” Reed said.