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An exhibit of half-century-old news photos tantalizes with the mystery of the photographer who shot them. 

No one seems to know or remember talented photojournalist Alan F. Reiland.

click to enlarge Alan F. Reiland's "Hasty Retreat"
  • Alan F. Reiland's "Hasty Retreat"

While the photographs in Forgotten Witness: The Long Lost Photographs of Pittsburgh Press Photographer Alan F. Reiland are forceful, this Shaw Galleries exhibition has an especially haunting feature: its nearly anonymous photographer. Unlike the Pittsburgh Courier's Teenie Harris, about whom a great deal is recorded, Alan F. Reiland is almost unknown. 

The two dozen gelatin silver prints roughly a half-century old include such compelling images as "A Mother's Anxiety." The photo shows two nurses and a grim-faced doctor, whose gloved fingertips are bloody, hovering over a child covered in burn ointment and gauze. The child's left hand is missing. Centered in the shot is the mother, who is in her bathrobe and bites a nail in deep reflection.

The photos themselves were nearly thrown away. But an astute observer saved them and sold them to someone else, from whom Shaw -- who's also the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's art critic -- purchased them at an estate sale five years ago.

Complicating Shaw's subsequent research, the photographer's name was sometimes spelled "Rieland." Meanwhile, the Social Security Birth and Death Index  revealed that before Reiland's death, in 1996, at age 69, he lived in Munhall. However, every other avenue Shaw followed proved a blind alley. No one seemed to know or remember Reiland.

While the photographs appear in pristine condition, their original mats show evidence of time spent on the Pittsburgh Press building floor. Some bear footprints and dirt smudges. Each has a title and number, indicating that they'd been entered into a competition held by The Press Photographers Association of Greater Pittsburgh. None of the photos are dated, but their subjects, including the erection of the Civic Arena dome, place them in the late 1950s and early 1960s. 

Two images bear golden Honorable Mention stickers: "A Mother's Anxiety" and "Crosseyed," the latter depicting a car accident that left the auto's headlights pointing toward each other. Others document things like a water-main break on Market Square, a house fire and a University of Pittsburgh "Lantern Party" for new female students. 

Most curious, says Shaw, is that Reiland and his work escaped inclusion in the Pittsburgh Photographic Library, established in 1952 and now housed at the Carnegie Library. Shaw hopes that by featuring Reiland's potent images, often penetrating in their psychology, more about the enigmatic photographer will emerge. 


FORGOTTEN WITNESS continues through July 30. Shaw Galleries, 805 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-281-4884 or www.shawgalleries.com

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