Singer/songwriter-turned-shutterbug Bryan Adams isn't sure whether his own celebrity helps put some of his famous subjects at ease.
“It's not something I've ever asked anyone, nor would I,” Adams said in an email interview from his home near London.
But look at the portraits in his “Exposed” exhibit at Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center and it's easy to see the Grammy-winning rock star has a knack for capturing candid, insightful images of fellow celebrities, including the late Amy Winehouse, Victoria Beckham, Mick Jagger, Lindsay Lohan, Kate Moss, Danny Trejo, Pink, Mickey Rourke, Sir Ben Kingsley and Queen Elizabeth II.
Adams' photographs can be likened to iconic images taken by the late, great Herb Ritts, renowned for his innovative and intimate portraits of Madonna, Richard Gere, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Christopher Reeve, among others.
Many of the California artist's photos of famed faces are featured in the new exhibit “Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity” at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
“Herb Ritts grew up in Brentwood and was neighbors with Steve McQueen, so he was very familiar and felt comfortable with this idea of celebrity. He saw these as his friends. He didn't see them as anything different than (other people). He was very familiar with celebrity culture,” said Jennifer Klos, associate curator at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
With the rise of gossip blogs and tabloids, people are bombarded by celebrity photos nowadays. But the portraits by Ritts and Adams are a far cry from the paparazzi pics and cellphone snapshots we often see of today's celebrities.
“People are fascinated by celebrity culture. ... But Herb Ritts really predates the very heightened digital photography world,” Klos said. “He was still embracing the traditions of photography that have been respected in the field of art history since the beginning of photography. He had an ability to capture life in a very realistic, quick moment in time.
“What we see today is almost a heightened saturation of celebrity. Many of these images would have been in magazines — in truly the physical form of a magazine cover on the newsstand. But I think the way people see them (celebrity photos) today probably also came about due to some of the talent of Herb Ritts.”
Ritts, who died in 2002 at age 50, took a classical approach to his portraits. He preferred to work in black and white and take his photos outdoors using natural light.
“Herb Ritts became woven immediately into American culture in the 1980s and ‘90s because of so many magazine covers and magazine editorials, fashion advertisements, commercials and also music videos,” Klos said.
One of the exhibit's key images is the portrait Ritts took of Madonna for her “True Blue” album cover.
Klos said the “True Blue” cover photo, a dramatic profile shot that Ritts took about 60 rolls of film to get, became iconic for a good reason.
About a dozen years ago, Adams took up a camera with an eye toward shooting his own album covers and wound up with a second career as a professional photographer. His OKC exhibit, which closes May 17, features photos he's done for magazines such as Harper's Bazaar.
“I always let people be themselves. Sometimes I have a set which can be useful to play with, or an interesting location, but the best photos I think are the simplest ones,” he wrote in his email.
“He's really developed as a photographer over the last 10 years and he's now very self-assured, I think, of what he does. And he knows a lot of these people. I think that helps so much because they're at ease when they're with him,” said Oklahoma Contemporary Executive Director Mary Ann Prior.
“They're not haphazard moments. They really are all staged, but the people are relaxed and it doesn't look in any ways forced.”