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Looking Back at Gee's Bend

Exhibit: May 2004

Samford University Library hosts Looking Back at Gee's Bend: The Photographs of John Reese. The exhibit is provided by the Birmingham Public Library.

The art is showcased on the main entry level around the grand staircase.

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church baptizes
map of Gee's Bend

John Reese

Photo of John Reese

[excerpt from brochure: Looking Back at Gee's Bend: The Photographs of John Reese, 1980, Birmingham Public Library]

John Reese is an unusually versatile man-trained musician, long-time railroad engineer, and accomplished photographer.

Born in Eldorado, Wisconsin, John Reese began his musical education while a student at Oshkosh High School. Following graduation, he continued his studies at the Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago and at Northwestern University's Chicago campus where he majored in the humanities. To this day, he retains his love for the violin, a love which was kindled during his student days in the 1930s.

In 1940, John Reese committed himself to an employment career in railroading. He first worked for Southern Railway and later for the Florida East Coast Railroad. His last and longest employment was with U. S. Steel, where he worked as an engineer on that corporation's Birmingham Southern Railroad until his retirement in 1979.

During much of his adult life, John Reese has also worked as a largely self-taught photographer, freelancing and doing photograph restoration. Twice he has been associated with the Birmingham Public Library; first in the late 1970s as a conservator of photographs, and second in 1980-81 as photographer for an NEH project to document life in Gee's Bend, one of Alabama's few remaining all black communities.

In 1992, Reese was commissioned to photograph St. Andrew's Episcopal Church at Prairieville, Alabama, fro the "Amazing Alabama" exhibition. Prints from his personal collection have appeared in many other exhibitions, including a one-man show at Birmingham's Jewish Community Center in 1962 and in the widely acclaimed Alabama Landscape Photographs exhibition in 1989. His photographs are among the permanent holdings of Eastman Collection in Rochester, New York, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Huntsville, Museum of Art, and the Birmingham Public Library.

Today John Reese lives in Chelsea, Alabama, with his wife Kate, an avid genealogist and his "biggest champion" according to John. He remains active as a photographer, doing mostly landscapes and cemeteries for his personal pleasure.

The Birmingham Public Library is grateful to john Reese, Kathryn Tucker Windham and Melissa Springer for their assistance with this exhibition.

Closing date: June 2004.

text provided by Birmingham Public Library

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