Lou Reed, Capturing New York in Photographs New York has always served as a muse for rock icon Lou Reed, and his photography is inspired by his sense of the city. The photo exhibit Lou Reed New York opened recently at the Hermes and Steven Kasher galleries. Reed tells Scott Simon about his work.
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Lou Reed, Capturing New York in Photographs

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Lou Reed, Capturing New York in Photographs

Lou Reed, Capturing New York in Photographs

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Lou Reed's music has always carried the sounds of New York street life, its rhythms, themes, and scenes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOU REED'S "I'M WAITING FOR THE MAN")

SIMON: He's still writing and recording music, but for several years now, Lou Reed has also been carrying a camera as well as a guitar to photograph the city that inspires him.

LOU REED: I just wanted to document some beauty. I was taking these pictures for myself because I just think they're so pretty.

SIMON: Over 50 of Lou Reed's photographs are now on display in two galleries. One is downtown in Chelsea. The other display space, somewhat surprisingly, is atop the Hermes Store on Madison Avenue, where there are four floors of signature scarves, leather goods and now, on the top of a staircase that winds four stories tall, Lou Reed's captured and preserved impressions of New York.

Y: spools of light, flocks of birds and swirls of clouds.

REED: I was thinking, you could isolate this sky, and this is Africa, or you look at it and say, this is Amsterdam, and it wasn't. It's here. It's just we're always surrounded by the buildings, usually crashing around midtown or, you know, trying not to be run over by a skateboarder or, you know, a third-world cabby or something, and here's the beautiful island, except most of us don't get a chance to think of it that way, because as we come over the bridge, we're just trying to get from A to B.

SIMON: Mr. Reed doesn't regard his photography as a hobby so much as part of the same passion as his music, capturing a moment of time well enough to make it timeless.

REED: Because the light comes and goes so quickly when it's perfect. You know that. There's a certain time in the morning, certain time around dusk where the light is golden, be it in California or New York, and I wanted to catch that. If you missed it, you got another chance. The only thing is with natural light, you don't get another chance with it. That's why you have to have it and be really ready to go, or it's gone. I mean, it'll come back, but not that one.

SIMON: 24 hours later, it may not be the same at all.

REED: It'll never be the same, but it'll be another one. A natural air and sky and whatever's coming over from Hoboken. Ha ha.

SIMON: I'm curious about a photograph right behind where we're standing. A bird against a cloud, a cloud that to me, almost looks like the outstretched palm of a hand.

REED: Exactly. That's the whole point of that picture. I couldn't believe it. Now, I did not place that stupid bird there. This just looked like the outstretched of God or something.

SIMON: Yeah, exactly.

REED: But amazing formation. I mean, but you see that all day, but you could only really see it if you edit it, and you know, like, focus. Boom. If you go like this, maybe--I see these things all day, I mean, just because I see it that way.

SIMON: Is that downtown somewhere? You just looked up?

REED: Yeah. It's like, wow, look at that. It looks like a hand. Why don't you (Unintelligble) take a picture of it then, guy. Well, look at them up close...

SIMON: It's so great.

REED: They're very beautiful and the closer you get to it, the more you'll get off of it. They have depth. For instance, let me show you something with real depth. Well, of a certain type because now it looks like you can reach right into it.

SIMON: Yes.

REED: Yes. I mean, it's serious 3D. It's a miracle. Those are snowflakes.

SIMON: Those are snowflakes?

REED: But what's amazing is they're all globular; all circles wherever you look.

SIMON: Yes.

REED: Snowflakes. This is, you know, in between it hitting and it's going to its crystallization edges formation. Boop! Some of us like things like this.

SIMON: It could be mistaken for one of the photographs you'd see in the planetarium; like a planetary system.

REED: Yes, or a close-up of blood. It's all the same. I mean, those formations that's what's kind of interesting, you know. The one up there and the one up here are pretty much the same.

SIMON: Yes.

REED: I don't know what that means, but it's certainly something to think about for a while. But if you look in here you'll also see the streetlights.

SIMON: Oh, yes. But you do got to get closer.

REED: Well, yes.

SIMON: Now I see the streetlights.

REED: Yes. Yes. Yes.

SIMON: So this was just in the middle of a snow?

REED: Yes.

SIMON: And now, yes, I look up I see the streetlights and traffic lights.

REED: Right.

SIMON: Is this like from near a bridge or something?

REED: It's quite a view, yes. If New York is the Alps, I was up high.

SIMON: Yes, it's good.

REED: I like that one.

SIMON: Yes, I like that one a lot.

REED: Yes. Yes. I have moments.

SIMON: This is one of your poems.

REED: That's the lyrics to a song that was so appropriate for this that we used it for the show.

REED: Take me for what I am ... a star newly emerging Long simmering explodes ... inside the self is reeling In the pocket of the heart, in the rushing of the blood In the muscle of my sex, in the mindful mindless love

SIMON: Just this. The moment you talk about that if you don't get it, it never repeats itself although other moments will.

REED: Same with music, I can hear stuff all day. If I don't take that idea down it's gone; hopefully to be replaced by another one, so you can't too serious about this.

SIMON: Now, do these moments just keep presenting themselves in life?

REED: Yes, endlessly.

SIMON: So it's a matter of deciding what to notice and working...

REED: To me, it's just these horses you could ride if you feel like it. It's a bunch of motorcycles. Do you want to hop on the sports bike? Do you want this one? Do you want that one or maybe just walk? But I mean, they're always there.

SIMON: Lou Reed, whose photographs at the New York, Key Notices can be seen now through February 25th at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea and the Gallery at Hermes on Madison Avenue. And if you can't get to New York, they're being published in a book, "Lou Reed's New York," and a few of them are on our website npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOU REED SINGING "CITY LIGHTS")

SIMON: You're listening to Weekend Edition from NPR News.

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