Bob Adelman Interview

Bob Adelman - The United Nations of Photography


Bob Adelman’s work has documented Andy Warhol’s Factory, the Civil Rights Movement, small town America and the life of a pimp but, as Sean Samuels discovered, his work is deeply influenced by all genres of visual creativity. 

Sean: Tell me about your love for the art world and how you think this influenced your work?
Bob: I studied with Meyer Shapiro, who was probably the greatest teacher of art history. His lectures were like watching a machine gun talk. He knew philosophy, he knew history and he knew art and was a great thinker and influential on artists such as Willem de Kooning. Almost everybody in the New York art world in the Sixties knew about Shapiro. He was very influential. So socially at the same time I was meeting artists. I had a friend of mine who was dating Larry Rivers. I think he was the first serious artist I met. I used to visit him up in South Hampton where he lived. Adolf Gottlieb lived in my building on the upper west side in Manhattan and an old girlfriend of mine went on to marry Jim Rosenquist – the first person I really photographed in considerable detail. He once created a whole painting for me in one day because I wanted to see what his process was. I am very interested in trying to understand and make sense of what I am looking at and following a process is a form of deepening your understanding of what you are looking at.

Sean: How did you meet Andy Warhol?
Bob: In 1965, I was living in a little apartment in Manhattan on 72nd and Madison in exchange for photographs. I had my darkroom in my bathroom there. The studio of art dealer Leo Castelli was up on 77th and on Saturday afternoons they would have openings which I started going to, I met a lot of people including Andy. From then on I started hanging out at the Factory. Andy was becoming a film-maker and that was when I started photographing. Edie Sedgwick was his ‘superstar’ at that point. There was a whole scene there I didn’t understand, but there was also a lot of excitement and I was caught up in it. I had made the transition from being a volunteer photographer to shooting for magazines. They would find out that I had covered something or would call looking for pictures and so I started working for Newsweek and Look and Time. This helped me with access to the art world because the people there knew where my pictures would appear. Warhol never saw a photographer he didn’t like and my pictures of him appeared in Esquire and other such magazines.

Sean: What did you make of his world and his art?
Bob: Upon seeing Andy’s work I immediately understood that he was the arbiter of consumerism. I understood that with his soup cans lined up, he had caught something of the repetition and strange ordered modern system of distribution. I sort of understood that he was capturing something about the quality of modern life. I saw a deep insight there in his work and I was drawn to him because I thought what he was doing was a great insight to our age. He was always saying, “What’s happening, what’s really happening, what’s going on?” He would walk down the street and was kind of like a puppy dog; at every newsstand he came to he would pick up a newspaper and look at it. He was always looking for material.

© Sean Samuels 2012

You can read the rest of this conversation by purchasing our In Conversation e-book with Bob Adelman.

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Bob Adelman - The United Nations of Photography


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