Given his multi-decade career as a Grammy-winning musician, the theme for Bryan Adams’ take on the iconic Pirelli Calendar came pretty naturally. His On the Road portraits capture the life of an artist on tour, from the excitement and glamour of a star preparing to perform to the atmospheric solitude of the post-show hotel room.
It was obvious that Adams should also take a turn in front of the camera and join the rest of the Calendar’s star-studded cast, given that “on the road is what I’ve been doing for the last 45 years”. He follows such legendary photographers as Terence Donovan, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz to shoot The Cal, but will be the first to also be featured in its pages.
The Canadian singer-songwriter, guitarist and record producer has long combined his career as a touring musician with second career in photography, shooting such high-profile subjects as Sir Mick Jagger, John Boyega, Naomi Campbell and even the Queen, who he captured for her Golden Jubilee.
The ten cast members – Cher, Iggy Pop, Jennifer Hudson, Rita Ora, Normani, Grimes, St. Vincent, Kali Uchis,Bohan Phoenix and Saweetie – were photographed at two iconic locations in Los Angels (the 110-year-old Palace Theatre and Hollywood hotel the Chateau Marmont), and in Capri at La Scalinatella Hotel.
In the words of musicians Rita Ora, Jennifer Hudson and Bohan Phoenix, working with the Canadian artist was “amazing”. Grimes, who arrived on set after a stressful, sleepless night, said Adams “just made it really easy, really nice… he’s the chillest, he’s super-chill.” St. Vincent, a big fan of Adams’ music, agreed, describing him as “lovely” and “an incredible photographer”.
Adams, 61, developed the ideas for the atmospheric, powerful images with the shoot’s creative director Dirk Rudolph, a German graphic designer he has collaborated with since 1996.
“One of the things about photographs is that you don’t want things to be normal, you want an image to be something memorable and so in creating these images, you try and create things that work with the concept of being on the road, but you also want to create fantasy,” Adams said.
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How did you come up with the theme of “on the road”?
It wasn’t too difficult, if I’m honest, because on the road is what I’ve been doing for the last 45 years. When I proposed it, I almost thought maybe this had been done before because it’s such an obvious thing, and I thought the symbiotic relationship would be good, the idea of musicians who travel and a company that makes tyres. It makes sense to me. I thought they might have thought it was a bit too much on the nose, but in the end they loved it.
Can you describe how the photographs tell the story of touring, performing and the experience of being on the road?
It would be very, very hard to encapsulate everything that goes on on the road in a couple of days. So what I tried to do was to represent some of the aspects of it… for example, musicians never really see the front of the building, they see the back of the building, we see the stage door, we see the backstage area, we see the basement of a building… you go from the stage door to the car door to the hotel door to the train door to the bus door, so it’s a bunch of doors, but it’s always about travelling.
This is the first time the Calendar has approached music and musicians in this way and, as both a photographer and a musician, you’re uniquely positioned to do it. Can you talk about that?
I mean, really, I’m glad that it’s come together and that it’s relatable in a world that I understand. For me, personally, it was really delightful to be able to work with other musicians and get a chance to take a peek into their world and see how they put it together because, you know, it’s changed so much, and image has become such an incredibly important part of what happens now with music. Now, an artist can completely change how they want to be represented in a single photograph, on their own, they’re in control… so it’s an interesting time photographically and artistically for musicians, in being able to control their image, particularly women.
What would you like your photographs to communicate?
I hope people enjoy the fantasy and the reality that we’ve portrayed in these few images. It’s only a cross-section of what could have been and unfortunately there’s not the space… you’d need a book of each person to be able to tell the story, but it’s a glimpse and it’s an interesting glimpse [of] each artist.
What is your favourite memory on the road?
Well, there’s a quote – actually from I think it was Apocalypse Now, a film back in the 1970s – where a soldier talks about being in the jungle, and every day he was in the jungle he wanted to get home, but every day he was home he wanted to get back in the jungle, and so a little bit of that is what happens with musicians. They get this addictive thing where once you’ve done it, you do it again and you do it again.
What does touring mean to you?
Well, touring has been my life really and I don’t know how else I could possibly explain it to you. It’s like having another family and I miss them because of this Covid thing.
Are you excited to go back on the road?
It’s interesting, I’ve had time to reflect, and I never thought this would happen, I never thought in my wildest dreams that the world would close down and we couldn’t travel. I’m excited to go back, but at the same time I really enjoyed my lockdown. I had a great time with my family and we had a lot of fun being hunkered down in our little bubble, but the bubble is starting to open, as we can see, and the world is starting to open and I hope it continues this way.