Most music fans have a mental image of Bryan Adams with a guitar in hand rasping out hits like “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” “Cuts Like a Knife” and “Summer of '69.”
About a dozen years ago, the Canadian rock star took up a camera with an eye toward shooting his own album covers and ended up with a second career making his own images as a professional photographer.
A new exhibit at the Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center, formerly City Arts Center, is exposing art lovers to Adams' photos of fellow celebrities from the film, fashion and music worlds.
“If you were to catagorise me, I suppose I'm a portrait photographer that dabbles in fashion,” Adams said in an email sent from his home near London, where his partner, Alicia Grimaldi, recently gave birth to their second daughter, Lula Rosylea.
“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.”
Opening Tuesday, “Bryan Adams: Exposed” features 40 images from his first book of the same name, which was released in October. The exhibit includes a mix of color and black-and-white images depicting famous faces from around the world, including the late Amy Winehouse, Victoria Beckham, Mick Jagger, Lindsay Lohan, Pink, Mickey Rourke, Sir Ben Kingsley and Queen Elizabeth II.
“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 way forced.”
Adams, 53, said the images in the book and exhibit mostly are taken from photo shoots he's done for magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, Esquire and Interview. He also founded and shoots for the German art fashion publication Zoo Magazine.
Sometimes the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter-turned-shutterbug uses elaborate set pieces, like the roomful of mirrors he arranged for Lana Del Rey after her highly scrutinized “Saturday Night Live” performance last year.
“They all seem to happen quite organically; things happen. I can't explain it. I usually have a team of people I work with, all kinds of creatives, from hair and makeup to stylists and art directors,” he said of choosing the right sets and props.
“It's a journey, I love working in the studio and sometimes on location. Candid shots are always being taken, and there is something spontaneous and fun about them ... but my preference is the studio.”
Oklahoma City is only the second U.S. stop for “Exposed,” which premiered in December at the Goss-Michael Foundation in Dallas. After it closes here May 17, it will travel to Marfa Contemporary, a satellite gallery of Oklahoma Contemporary in Marfa, Texas, for a May 31-July 31 run.
“It's had a very good run in Dallas. It's been very popular there, so I have no doubt at all that it's going to be equally well-received here,” said Oklahoma Contemporary Executive Director Mary Ann Prior, adding that Adams attended the exhibit's Dallas opening but isn't expected at the Oklahoma City event because of his daughter's birth and upcoming European tour.
Adams' exhibit will be the first to open at the Oklahoma gallery since it announced its new name earlier this week.
“It kind of sets the scene for where we're going. We won't always do these high-profile exhibitions with celebrities ... but we will have a lot of very interesting international and national exhibits. And they'll all be living artists,” Prior said.
“It (the new name) represents another stage in the evolution of this organization. It's been around for over 20 years and now it's making rapid progress to becoming a very vibrant space that is going to be eventually moved to a downtown location.”
Beyond Marfa, specific U.S. dates for “Exposed” are not confirmed, Prior said, but the exhibit will be traveling around the world. Another installment of it currently showing in Duesseldorf, Germany, includes Adams' celebrity photos as well as his portraits of British war veterans, which will be featured in his next book.
“Whether it be my own family or my friends, I tend to gravitate toward a character. ... I do believe everyone is as interesting as the next, it's just that some people are more forthcoming than others,” Adams said. “The soldiers I've been photographing are all British veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, all of them wounded, some very severely. It's a compelling, inspiring and very moving set of portraits.”
At the same time his photos are getting newfound exposure, Adams is continuing his “Bare Bones” acoustic tour and working on new music.
“Making an album of songs is always on the cards, it's just when will it be good enough to release,” he said.
He may be up to two demanding careers as well as two young daughters, but the “18 Til I Die” singer doesn't consider any of his life's works too much work.
“I think these days you need to be a bit of a plate spinner; you need to multitask. Having a family isn't work for me, it's a joy, and I've never felt like I've worked making music or photos. Not only is it a joy, it's a privilege,” he said.