Seduced by the Lens: Bryan Adams
"It's A Silent Dance"
By Hannah and Cailin Loesch
Bryan Adams is a Canadian singer/songwriter, who at some point during the early years of his music career, became interested in expressing his own ideas on how his records should be presented visually. As a result, Adams found yet another passion: photography. His work has since been published in British Vogue, L'uomo Vogue, American Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, British GQ, Esquire, Interview Magazine and i-D. His advertising campaigns include Hugo Boss, Guess Jeans, Sand, Converse, Montblanc, John Richmond, Fred Perry, Escada, and Jaguar and OPEL cars. Adams has released four books of photography: American Women (2004), Exposed (2012), Wounded – The Legacy of War (2013), and Untitled (2015), among many other published works and collaborations. He co-founded the art fashion Zoo Magazine in 2003, based in Berlin, for which he shoots regularly.
Hannah Loesch: You are one of the world’s best-selling music artists, and you’ve also found great success as a photographer. What is the relationship between your ear for music and eye for photography?
Bryan Adams: Once the music for a CD is near completion, the search for the right image to accompany the music starts. I started working on my own photos for my CDs and videos for fun, just to see what would happen. It used to be crushing spending a year working on a record and then having them visually misinterpreted by a poorly executed pop video. But basically, to answer the question, I love both mediums, and find it fun to make something from nothing.
HL: Do you feel that your passion for photography is innate, or did it develop later on?
BA: My passion for photography started early on with me using my parent’s cameras, and it didn’t hurt that my uncle was an executive at the Ilford film company. He used to send packages of film for us to use, so most of my early photos were in black and white. I credit him as part of the reason why I started to enjoy taking photos. For my first tour I went out and bought a Canon camera to document what was going on…my little Agfa 2000 wasn’t cutting it.
HL: Was there a particular moment or event in your life that lead you to acknowledge photography as another form of expression for you personally?
BA: A few, really. Working with other photographers was fascinating; having a girlfriend who was a model who was always coming back with these beautiful photos was amazing. But I suppose the moment I bought a Rolleiflex camera things really changed. That camera had something going on. Depth of field was more exciting; the format of the negs was more interesting, even the out of focus shots were cool. Then I started working with real printers like Mike Spry at Downtown darkroom and Brian Dowling at BDI in London. They turned my crappy negatives into boxes of exquisite prints. It was like Christmas.
Cailin Loesch: You’ve published an acclaimed book of war veteran portraits, Wounded: The Legacy of War. What is it about this type of photography that touched you in a way that made you want to take on the project?
BA: I was against the war in the Middle East and I wanted to do something, so making a document of the time seemed the right idea. Coincidentally, I’d been approached by ITN journalist Caroline Froggatt to do something for the veterans coming back from wars. At the time, people in Britain had no idea that they were going to lose so many people in Iraq. Everyone had been told it would be quick. Suddenly men and women started coming back in pieces, and the mood in the country changed. Five years after that initial meeting, I approached Gerhard Steidl who I’d worked with on my previous book Exposed, and I explained what I wanted to do. He agreed immediately to publish the book.
CL: You’ve said that you published ‘Wounded’ with the intention to highlight the “human consequences of war”. You also support the Hear the World initiative for the awareness of hearing and hearing loss as a photographer. Do you have a particular method of using photography for protest or advocacy? Do you feel that there is a most effective way of doing so?
BA: I think keeping things simple is the key to that kind of work. A single image can change your perception on things forever. For example, the photo of the young lad who drowned on the beach in Turkey escaping the conflict with his family in Syria...we were never the same again after seeing that photo. It was so stunningly powerful, so unbelievably tragic. Similarly, the photos in ‘Wounded’ depict the terrible suffering endured by British soldiers in the field in a stark and simple way. Doing the photos made me wonder what the toll of suffering must have been on the other side, as so many of the soldiers I photographed are only alive because of the huge advancements of medicine in the field.
CL: As a music artist who understands the power of lyrics to leave an impact on a person, in what way is the impact of a photograph different than the impact of the written word?
BA: You can carry the advice of a saying or a phrase with you forever, just as you can an image. There are words of inspiration that can bring you to your knees, and make you re-evaluate everything. An image can do the same.
HL: As a musician, do you ever look at a picture or look through the pages of your portraiture books and find that they have a sound?
BA: Not at all. To me they all seem quite silent and reflective. Being allowed to photograph someone is a privilege; it’s a silent dance.
HL: I find it interesting that you describe your book Untitled, a large-format book of abstract photographs you took during a trip to the Island of Mustique in the West Indies, as being a sort of testament to “the Earth’s incredible beauty.” Is that how you always see the beauty of the world—abstract?
BA: Yes, completely.