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In 1993, gallery and atelier owner David Adamson became one of the first digital print makers in the world. Since then, he’s worked with Robert Frank, Chuck Close, and Annie Leibovitz, among many others. On Friday, July 24, the Adamson Gallery held a private reception for Velvet Underground frontman, photographer, and living legend Lou Reed—the artist behind the gallery’s latest exhibition, “Romanticism.” Last week, Washington City Paper spoke to Adamson about his work with Reed and the technology behind the ethereal prints.
WASHINGTON CITY PAPER: You were one of the first people to print photos digitally. Can you tell me a bit about how you got into that?
David Adamson: Well I started as a traditional printer, a lithographer, but in the late ’70s I started to get interested in computer and computer technology, and I basically looked for a way to bring the two together, the traditional printing and the computers. I bought one of the first digital printing machines that was available—from the Israeli army. Made for satellite pictures. We adapted that to be able to print photography. So that was by about 1993, I opened my first studio, that was all digital. So that’s how we got into that.
WCP: You’ve worked with Lou Reed before?
Adamson: Yes, I’ve done, oh I think I’ve done about four different shows for Lou that have been at different venues over the past… I think we’ve been working together for about five years.
WCP: And what was it like working with him, and how have you seen his work progress?
Adamson: Well, I mean obviously it’s been a real honor and treat to be able to work with Lou Reed, because he was one of my heroes growing up. You know, and so to be able to work with him one on one in a totally different vein that had nothing to do with music but was imaging, it’s been just a great experience. He’s really really passionate about the technology and about the cameras and photography. He’s very knowledgeable. We talk all the time about this sort of stuff, you know, and so it’s been really great just seeing how we’ve gone in the past five years from where we started, basically, which was non-digital, we would’ve been scanning film and making those images to being, now, a totally digital show.
WCP: What other photographers’ influences can you see in Reed’s work? Has that changed at all from when he first started?
Adamson: You know, he’s actually one of the few people that I really don’t see that he’s affected or influenced by too many people. I mean, he’s got a lot of friends that are brilliant, like Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Ralph Gibson, all of these are his friends, which are great photographers. But I think Lou kind of goes his own way, and is quite happy to sort of just go that way, not really try and be or do anything except what makes him happy.
WCP: “Romanticism” is promoted as a response to industrialization and globalization, which are corollaries of technological advancement. It’s interesting then that Reed chose to shoot and print digitally.
Adamson: Well in a way this is the greenest form of printing there is. The inks we use are, they’re pure, natural pigment. The paper is rag paper that’s been recycled and reconstituted. There’s no chemicals used. So it’s a very environmentally sound method that we use. Also digital—no film, no silver, no waste. You know, so in that sense, the technology involved in this is really cool.
WCP: As a fan of Reed’s music, do you see any parallels with his photography?
Adamson: Yeah. I think “Perfect Day,” if you listen to “Perfect Day” you could look at any one of these and hear that song. I mean, you know, as opposed to some of the darker songs or the heavy metal stuff that he does, this is more like “Perfect Day,” yeah.
WCP: Are these [photographs] arranged in any specific way?
Adamson: They’re arranged in an order that he wanted to see them in. So, in his mind there’s a certain sequence and a story that’s going on, yeah.
WCP: And how closely did you work with him over the course of preparation for this exhibition?
Adamson: Oh we’ve been working on this project now for probably two years, editing and looking at stuff. You know, I’d go up in the studio and we’d look at stuff and pick stuff out, and I’d make proofs and it is a to and fro, and then of course it turned into a book [Romanticism]. So we took some of those images from the book. So it’s been a continuing process.
WCP: How did you select the images that you were going to show from the book?
Adamson: Well out of the book we pretty much picked everything, except some of the crops and the closer edits. So I tried to put as much in as I could that was in the book.
WCP: And these photographs weren’t shot in infrared or in black and white, so what is it, what was used?
Adamson: It’s more than that. He had a camera that was particularly customized, that sees in a wavelength that the normal cameras do not see, and I think you can see that in some of the imagery. And Lou is a very… I mean he sees and he hears things in a very different way than most people. And so, you know, when he takes his photograph it’s like this is how he really sees it. That’s how he feels.
“Romaticism” is on view Tuesdays through Fridays, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m., through September 4 at Adamson Gallery, 1515 14th St. NW, Suite 202. (202) 232-0707.