In addition to his fine arts photography, Reed specializes in making window screens at Kilian’s.

By Stacia Friedman

Gary Reed has an “eye” that sees things most of us miss. More importantly, he has a camera that documents them. Take, for example, Reed’s haunting images of the interior of the abandoned Town Hall in Germantown.

“I remember going to Town Hall when I was a child,” said Reed, 59. “It was originally built as a Civil War hospital, and it housed the Liberty Bell before the bell was relocated to Independence Hall.” A history buff, Reed explained that this formerly opulent Greek Revival building was created to upstage Center City at a time when Germantown was booming.

“Photography is a time machine,” said Reed. “It’s a photographer’s duty to capture that moment.” Before it is gone. In Reed’s “Lost Philadelphia Centennial Project” he aimed his lens at the remains of Philadelphia’s Centennial celebration, bordered by Belmont and Girard Avenues in Fairmount Park.

There, he captured the pristine beauty of Ohio House, the only remaining State House of over 24 erected for the event. “Wealthy people bought the houses and moved them, but the Ohio House remains,” said Reed. “It’s a perfect example of Victorian architecture.”

Raised in North Philadelphia near Connie Mack Stadium, Reed displayed an early passion for the visual arts and science. His grandfather had owned a greeting card business, and Reed was also influenced by his uncle Ronnie, who attended art school after returning from Vietnam.

Visiting museums expanded his hunger for the arts. After graduating from Roman Catholic High School, he studied photography at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon and Rochester Institute of Technology. “I was privileged to study with great painters and photographers,” he said.

“I learned the Ansel Adams zone system, which allowed me to become a highly competent darkroom technician. It also allowed me to create great dynamic color and black and white images, but I still felt limited. Then one day I read about software called Dark Element, which later was renamed Photoshop. Almost immediately, I could see its potential.”

However, it took several years and the purchase of a used Apple computer for Reed to realize his dream and learn Photoshop. “It opened a whole other world. I started revisiting my analog images to recreate them anew.” As for those purists who only use film and insist that digital manipulation is beneath them, Reed disagrees. “Ansel Adams manipulated his images in the darkroom. The foundation of digital photographer is the same as film. I do both.”

Reed’s Nikon, Macs, Aperture, Ink plug-in and Photoshop have become his tools to showcase the urban landscape of Philadelphia. That includes images of Laurel Hill Cemetery that seem to glow from within, recalling the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites. His “Fog” series shrouds the Philadelphia Art Museum and adjacent River Drive in a spooky mist. His biggest project, on which he spent four years, is his photo series on the Wissahickon Woods. “I wanted to capture all four seasons.”

Interestingly, some of Reed’s strongest images are in black and white, which he uses to contrast the architectural details of Philadelphia’s landmark buildings – 2601 Parkway, the Divine Lorraine Hotel and the Art Museum’s Perelman Building. It’s not just what Reed shoots but how. By tilting his camera he manages to capture a slice of architectural detail with a passing cloud, contrasting 19th century craftsmanship with eternity.

Nothing is off limits to Reed who finds beauty in unusual places. A carousel when it’s closed for the winter. An unattended regatta tent along the Schuylkill left over from a recent race.

A resident of Mt Airy in the 1980s, Reed has called Germantown home for 10 years and is actively engaged in the town’s cultural renaissance. “I was among the first artists to exhibit at the Imperfect Gallery when it first opened six years ago on the 5500 block of Germantown Avenue. Everyone thought they were crazy, but it’s become a community hub,” said Reed, who regularly photographs local cultural events.

Man does not live by bread or photography alone. These days, Reed works full-time at Kilian’s, where he specializes in making window screens. His job comes with some perks, including manning Kilian’s table at the Fall for the Arts Festival.

“They told me I could display my photos, but I had no idea there was a prize for best photographer,” said Reed who received the Festival’s first prize in photography with humility and gratitude. “I love it here,” he said.

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  • Jim Harris

    Gary is an amazingly talented photographer and also a technology expert who has helped me to survive in the computer age. A great guy and good friend. Glad to see him getting some richly-deserved recognition!