03/04/2014 05:28 EST | Updated 05/04/2014 05:59 EDT

Rock Legend Bryan Adams' Other Not-So-Hidden Talent

I should have cried the night I saw my childhood idol, Bryan Adams, in the flesh for the first time in my life recently in Calgary. At least that is what I imagined how one reacts when coming in close proximity (be it several yards away) to one's idol, as evidenced by screaming fans of rock stars as observed in the media.

Alas, not a tear was shed. One thing you learn fast when listening to Bryan Adams speak is his ability to project himself closer to his audience as if he was just having a chat with his buds (yourself included) over coffee in his kitchen. You are drawn in to his world and he is no longer Adams the legend, but Adams the guy you have hung around with all your life.

Bryan Adams was not in town to perform any concert. He was in town to showcase a very different talent and passion of his -- photography, particularly in the genre of celebrity portraits. His work is currently on display at the Glenbow Museum (the last place I imagined I would end up meeting my rock idol) as part of Exposed,, an exhibition of his photography, running February 23 - May 4, 2014. He was the guest speaker as part of a Q + A style presentation and the highlight of the SCHMANCY 2014, an annual fundraising event in support of the Glenbow.

I had first heard of Bryan's (yup, we are on first name basis since our coffee date) foray in to photography in a piece written by then columnist for the Globe and Mail, Rebecca Eckler. I took that to be just a "passing phase" that everyone artist goes through every now and then. It was not until this event did I truly fathom the depth of his new muse. At the event at Glenbow, the audience heard Bryan talk (yes he does have that raspy voice even when speaking) about his transition from music to photography and his personal and humorous anecdotes on 'behind-the-scenes' of some his notable work ranging from portraits of semi-nude celebrities to dismembered (but not disabled) Afghanistan war veterans from Canada. "I didn't want these guys to be forgotten."

One can tell his work is inspired by another legendary Canadian photographer of notable fame, Yousuf Karsh, whose collection was also part of an exhibit at the Glenbow in the recent years past. While similarities exist in the imagery in terms of tone (mostly monochrome) and scope (singular portraits), the difference becomes evident very fast. While Karsh is popularly known for his contemplative portraits of world leaders and celebrities shot in formal curated settings, Bryan is able to tear in to deeper layers of psyche (not unlike the peeling of an onion) of the person by capturing them in raw and impromptu settings (many happen to be in his kitchen). Be it the ranger that lost his leg in the war, Sean Penn with his hands in his pants, Kate Moss modeling in her skivvies, Pink in nothing, and the rather prim Queen Mum in her...all images tell a story!

Bryan Adams was and is a good storyteller. In my early years I had to live in various locations overseas as the family moved with dad's job postings abroad, and these were in countries where "western influence" was largely of the British and American kind. Finding, or for that matter holding on to, any form of Canadianism, was not the play of the expatriates. Hockey rinks were all but non-existent, satellite TV was in its infancy, and there was no BlackBerry. But I remember being a young mall rat perusing the music stores for the latest album from Bryan Adams. And thanks to that one blockbuster Hollywood theme song, there was no shortage of him on the play charts on local radio stations, malls (apparently Bryan Adams in very big in malls overseas then and now) and MTV. He was the one Canadian identity that was embraced globally and a good one at that.

What I recall vividly about his music is his ability to reach out to the listener and narrate a heartfelt story that was as compelling as the videos itself. While one head-banged to Nirvana with the buds in the car and one pretended to 'get' Marilyn Manson so as to fit in, one could tune in to B. Adams in solitary respite at any time of day. One never had to 'get' his music, everyone just 'got' it.

While he may not have reached adulatory status in his native land, he has undeniably a, well...Rock Star status outside. But he is more than that. Of particular significance behooving a true artist is his/her ability to constantly reinvent and stay relevant with the times by releasing notable singles and collaborating with various artists over the years. There may have been more contributions to the music world if Bryan kept writing and recording. But his talent certainly lives on in the world of photography. When he describes his photography as an extension of music, one can see through the narrative that plays its silent tunes in the sepia tone of the subject of his photograph.

Music is Magic

No, I did not cry when I heard and saw Bryan Adams. But I was awestruck indeed. That inner child from solitary respite of bygone days awoke. And I did smile in amusement at the reinvention of not just Bryan Adams but of the Glenbow itself. This is a place where, in 2014, you can walk down the halls to peruse its contemporary art collection, ancient artifacts, and occasionally bump in to a global rock star! The cycle of reinvention is what keeps societies vibrant. On a larger scale it is perhaps a glimpse of the vibrancy and transformation slowly traversing through Calgary and perhaps through Alberta. And Bryan Adams just showed Calgarians how music and photography can do just that.


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