Piedmont profile: A talented mix: David Lamanno plays music, captures images

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Sarah Hall
David Lamanno may have been born a century too late.
He takes photos with view cameras from the 1920s ó the cumbersome kind with the box and bellows on a tripod, where the photographer gets under a hood to take the photo.
“It can take 20-30 minutes just to compose one shot,” says Lamanno. But it’s not about antiquated technology. He says this with pride, talking about the attention and focus required in the art of getting the best possible picture.
Lamanno eschews digital photography, preferring the clarity of film, especially that of photos taken with the larger of his two view cameras, the one with the 8-by-10-inch negatives.
In a studio in his early 19th-century home in Spencer, he does his own developing and printing, skills he largely taught himself.
He gives credit for much of his knowledge to the library at Penn State. While his wife, April, was working on her Ph.D. in psychology there, he had access to a great number of resources for self-study.
Reading is something Lamanno knows well. As manager of Barnes and Noble in Winston-Salem, he has to stay current on bestsellers to be able to answer questions for customers.
The Lamannos are the parents of an active 2-year-old, Eva, and David shares in child-care responsibilities with April, a psychologist for Salisbury Pediatric Associates. Between job and family, it can be difficult to find as much time as he’d like for photography.
Yet he still manages to cram something else into his schedule ó performing musician. Lamanno is a one-man band. Perhaps you have heard him playing out on the sidewalk down in Rail Walk, where he has been known to entertain those passing by the Looking Glass Artist Collective.
With his old-school guitar, wooden kick drum and harmonica, Lamanno looks as out of date as he does under the hood of his antique camera. And with his repertoire of mostly traditional Americana and blues, he may sound equally anachronistic, but delightfully so.
He also plays and sings original tunes in a rock-a-billy style, and pays homage to musicians like Elvis and Johnny Cash, two of his favorites.
As a student at Western Carolina University in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and the following few years when Lamanno was working at Barnes and Noble in Asheville, he was performing in three bands ó Electro-Lux, the Rib Tips and another one with a name “better forgotten.”
Stop and listen to Lamanno’s one-man band act and you’ll note that between the traditional songs, his originals still have shades of Electro-Lux punk rock. And, thanks to YouTube, one can watch a young Lamanno with shoulder-length hair rocking out on guitar and drums at campus performances.
Research indicates it was Lamanno who would end shows by taking the vintage Electro-Lux vacuum cleaner used as a prop on stage, and blow glitter and dust out over the audience. But it’s hard to imagine this soft-spoken, unassuming, clean-cut bookstore manager in this former incarnation
Electro-Lux hadn’t performed together in 13 years, then got together for a reunion performance at Asheville’s most recent Bele Chere festival this past July.
Lamanno will be performing this Friday at 8:30 p.m., doing his one-man band thing as the opening act for Asheville duo Mad Tea Party, performing in the artist collective’s Black Box Theater at 407 N. Lee St.
Next door at 407 N. Lee St., in the collective’s “purple room” there will be an opening reception and exhibit of Lamanno’s photographs, starting at 7 p.m.
Besides the view cameras, Lamanno also uses two different 35mm film cameras and a Holga, which is a toy-like Chinese camera made all of plastic, even the lens.
The cheap Holga produces photos that are often blurred, and vignetting occurs from the four dark corners where the lens doesn’t cover the film.
But some photographers have embraced Holgas for artistic purposes. Lamanno was “intrigued by the look” of the soft focus and vignetting. He says using the camera involves “guesswork” since there is no precise way to focus and compose the shot, with just a peep-hole on the side.
Photographs taken with the Holga are among those to be on display at Looking Glass.
Lamanno hopes to eventually turn his photography hobby into more of a profession. He is available for portraiture and other photography jobs. Still fairly new to Rowan County, having been here less than two years, he is just starting to get his name out as a photographer-for-hire.
And his reputation is spreading statewide. A photograph he took of Kure Beach Pier with his antique, large-format camera recently appeared in Our State magazine.
Not bad for a guy living in the past.