||Preserving rock's past was a snap for ex-Stone Bill Wyman
By James Healy
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
April 27, 2007
Through a lens, darkly, longtime Rolling Stones bass player Bill Wyman – a shutterbug since boyhood – snapped away during the glory days of rock 'n' roll as the icons of the genre filed past.
“I never thought of doing exhibitions,” Wyman, a history buff and perpetual diarist, said this week by phone from his manor in East Anglia, about 100 miles outside London. “I always just kept (the photos) as a personal record of what I did, where I went, what was happening.
“I have a really nice one of John Lennon during the Rock and Roll Circus in 1968, which I took a camera to and shot people like Eric Clapton and The Who and various other people during or in between filming. There was plenty of spare time where I could just shoot pictures – except when we were on (stage), of course.”
A sampling of Wyman's collection, which ranges from shots of rock stars to photos of the artist Marc Chagall to exotic landscapes, will open tomorrow at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in La Jolla.
And though the former Rolling Stone (he left the band in 1993) owns a digital camera, the works in the exhibit were taken with a mid-1960s model Nikon Nikkormat 35mm, mostly with a 135mm lens. (He conceded that the Nikkormat “seems to have gotten heavier and heavier” over time.)
“I just love the way of getting that very close, short sort of scale of focus with blur in the background, a very narrow sort of focus,” he said.
“I always try to take shots when (the subjects) weren't looking at me. I'd much rather take pictures of people in a natural situation, moving, talking.”
Among Wyman's favorites is a haunting photo he snapped of then-bandmate Brian Jones, who died in 1969. “That was taken in the car on the way to the gig,” Wyman recalled. “We were both sitting in the back seat of the car and I saw him through the driver's rearview mirror. So I just shot him while he was looking out the window.”
Wyman has one regret about his days as Stones historian: “I could never shoot the Stones (performing) . . . That's always been my downfall. The only interesting room is backstage, on aeroplanes, buses or trains. Places like that were about the only chances I'd have.”
Still, he had the ultimate backstage pass. “I do have the advantage, I suppose, over other photographers where I can get them (celebrities) more candidly, without posing.”
“Charlie Watts – he's a perfect example,” Wyman said of the Stones drummer. “He never minded the camera. So I've got many, many great pictures of Charlie.” Singer Mick Jagger, on the other hand, “was less inclined to be cooperative. He was always like, 'Oh, Bill, put the camera away.' ”
Another of his favorites, Wyman said, was shot during filming of “The Rock and Roll Circus” and captures Jagger helping Stones guitarist Keith Richards “remove his boots before we did our session.”
Wyman is equally proud of his landscape and nature photos, although galleries often highlight his celebrity shots. He said he's hoping to publish the full exhibit's more than 100 photos in a book next year. (The 45 prints exhibited in La Jolla will feature celebs only, gallery director Richard Horowitz said, because “we specialize in music photography.”)
Wyman, meanwhile, said he has no regrets about leaving the Stones, once dubbed the World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band. “I always wish I'd have done it earlier, actually, because I've always been interested in a variety of subjects and always wanted to participate in them, which I was unable to do when I was in the band.
“In the last sort of 14, 15 years, I've done everything: I've got my own band (the Rhythm Kings), and we tour; I've written seven books on a variety of subjects; I've got my own Web site; I do archaeology all over the place; I have special events at all the great museums in England; I do photography; I've got a restaurant (London's Sticky Fingers Cafe). And I'm still mates with (the Stones).”
He said his fellow Stones “never wanted me to go, so there was a bit of friction for about six months. They thought I was out of my head. But then they came 'round and understood, and we're still close. I see Charlie very regularly. We all send each other Christmas presents, birthday presents. We've been doing that ever since the beginning. It's like a family.”
Wyman, the oldest Stone at 70, chuckled like a big brother at the antics of Richards, who was quoted recently as saying he'd snorted his father's ashes. “I dread to think that's true. Keith loves to live his legend, so he exaggerates everything out of all proportion . . . just to bolster his image.”
Would Wyman consider rejoining the Stones if the opportunity arose?
“I don't see any point, really,” he said. “It was something that was fantastic while it lasted, and it was 30 years, after all, of my life. Things are never the same when you go back, anyway.”
Besides, there's the issue of flying, which Wyman, who served two years in the British air force before joining the Stones, now abstains from.
“I just got a bit fed up with it,” he said. “It hasn't changed my life one iota. I still do a lot of business, a lot of music. I travel by road and by train.”
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