NEW YORK — He’s spent the last 40 years singing about the darker side of the big city: hookers, junkies, transvestites. But on Jan. 20, Lou Reed is making a foray into the world of photography with the release of a coffee table book called “Lou Reed’s New York,” and the first-ever solo exhibitions of his work, one at the Steven Kasher gallery in Chelsea and the other at the gallery at the Hermès store on Madison Avenue. And the view he’s interested in showing is one of totally unironic beauty. Earlier this week, the ever-prickly musician sat down to discuss his shots of the Hudson River Park, his favorite photographers and why gentrification may be a good thing after all.
WWD: When did you begin taking photographs?
WWD: Who are your favorite photographers?
L.R.: I’m not a student of that. I always liked Warhol, Wim Wenders, Larry Clark.
WWD: As a musician, you’re sometimes described as a minimalist. What do you make of that classification and does it apply to your photographs?
L.R.: It depends who you talk to. It depends on how you define minimalism. Was Warhol a minimalist? What is minimalism? Larry Clark, Diane Arbus, they take pictures with a Leica. Do you say that’s minimalism or them going around with one of the best cameras in the world? I don’t know. Is it a state of mind? You could write a whole book on the topic.
WWD: You seem more interested in the scenic detail of the city and the architecture than the people.
L.R.: You don’t have to ask someone “don’t move,” relax or smile. I do have other types of pictures. But down on the docks now, the transformation at the World Trade Center, has just been so extraordinarily beautiful. I hope you understand I’ve been taking pictures every day for three years, not because I had to, but because at a certain hour in the morning, the light is a certain way and you say, “My God, this is unbelievable.” That’s what I wanted to show. The city, the light, the air, the water.
WWD: I did wonder when I saw the pictures if this new focus had something to do with the way the city’s inhabitants have changed over the last decade. Less junkies and transvestites.
L.R.: Certain types of black-and-white photographs have been done to death. I don’t have anything to add to that. What I saw on the river was so astonishing, so beautiful, that it seemed worth taking a picture of. It’s another way of looking at the whole thing.
WWD: Has your view of the city changed in the last several years?
L.R.: Well, I love New York no matter what. I think it’s going to be just terrible if everything turns into incredibly expensive things where young people and musicians and painters and dancers can’t live here. No one wants the meat market to go any further than it is right now. Enough’s enough. Please, it’s got to stop. On the other hand, I love the [Hudson River] park. It has not been a decline in quality. From the type of screws they used to the wood, there was just such attention paid to detail. Beauty must have a place in New York. You can still amuse yourself now if you really want to. It doesn’t mean we have to look at decay.
WWD: Many of the pictures were taken right from your window, right?
L.R.: Some were, most were not. Depends on where I was, what the temperature was. Or if I thought I could go out there fast enough.
WWD: There’s an interesting parallel between this and your music, this obsession with the technical process of creation.
L.R.: Yes, the technical thing has always been fascinating to me. In guitars, in amplifiers, you name it. It’s the engineering.
WWD: In one shot in the show, we see a helicopter hovering over the city, surrounded by clouds. Where were you on 9/11?
L.R.: I was here looking at it. I don’t like to talk about 9/11. We can skip that.
WWD: But it’s quite relevant to these photographs, don’t you think?
L.R.: If you think so. I don’t talk about 9/11.
WWD: Has anyone ever suggested that this inability to answer questions is pretentious?
L.R.: No. I’m free, white and over 21. I’m under no obligation to anyone.