Reed began photographing as a freelancer in 1970, and later became a contributing photographer for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine in the mid -1980s. Reed attracted the attention of Magnum in the fall of 1982 with his work from El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries. He was nominated to the agency the following summer, and became a full member in 1988.
That same year, Reed photographed the effects of poverty for an essay that became the emotional core of a film documentary on America’s children called Poorest in the Land of Plenty, narrated by Maya Angelou. He went on to work as a stills and specials photographer for major motion pictures, working with directors Robert Altman and John Singleton, among others.
Reed has completed editorial assignments for National Geographic, LIFE, Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, People, George, The Times and many others. He has lectured and taught at the International Center of Photography, Columbia University, New York University and Harvard University.
Currently, Reed works as Clinical Professor of Photojournalism at the University of Texas in Austin.