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Satisfaction: Taking photos

Bill Wyman kept his camera on hand during the Stones' heyday. His photos will be on display.

March 22, 2007|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

FOR most shutterbugs, retirement is a boon to their hobby.

Not Bill Wyman. Seems his old day job was perfect for his photographic passions.

But these days he's got a lot else keeping him busy.

"Retired?" he says, with a dry smirk. "By the swimming pool, yeah."

And he starts to list the pursuits he's taken on in his "retirement": He's opened a restaurant, become an avid archeologist of Roman sites in England (he recently unearthed a rare Roman coin and even rarer brooch near his country house), written half a dozen books (on topics as varied as blues music and the aforementioned archeology), is raising three preteen daughters and does concert tours and benefit shows with his own rock-blues-jazz-oriented band.

"My life's very, very full," says Wyman, who turned 70 in October, speaking from his home in Suffolk. "So not much time to do photography."

Of course, that day job -- or, more often, night job -- was not your run-of-the-mill grind. He played bass in the Rolling Stones, from the group's founding in 1962 until he voluntarily exited in 1993. His solid sound and economical yet fluid style anchored such essential hits as "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Brown Sugar" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash," but his low-key manner put him in the background of the more colorful Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Even at its most manic, from the screaming-teen '60s through the stadium tours of the '70s and '80s, it was a hurry-up-and-wait lifestyle between concerts and in recording sessions. And although some used the downtime for notoriously decadent pursuits, Wyman (whose passion for photography started when an uncle returning from World War II handed down a Brownie box camera) had plenty of opportunity to click to his heart's content -- and plenty of interesting subjects to click at. It's hard to come up with a more photogenic cast than Jagger, Richards, Brian Jones, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts, not to mention such friends as John Lennon, Elton John and the Who.

Those and more, captured in offhand moments both on stage and off, will fill the walls of the Morrison Hotel Gallery in Hollywood for an exhibit titled "Wyman Shoots," running from an opening reception Saturday through April 15. (Wyman stopped flying years ago and will not attend, but he will participate in a video conference on Sunday that is open to those who purchase his prints at the gallery.)

Not that his subjects always took him seriously.

"Oh yeah," he says. "It was, 'Tell him to put that away' or 'Oh Bill, come off it.' Mick was always like that. The others didn't really mind. Charlie least of all. Charlie was naturally posing. Looks like it was set up, but never was. He's so photogenic."

And though he was very respectful of his colleagues' privacy, he caught some revealing moments.

"There's one of Mick reading a Bible that he might not like," he says with a laugh. "I call it 'Mick Looking for Loopholes,' which I nicked off W.C. Fields."

There's a shot of a pensive Jones reflected in a car's rear-view mirror, an image that holds a haunting quality given the guitarist's slipping status in the band in the late '60s and mystery-shrouded drowning death in 1969. Another shows Richards with a black eye courtesy of rock legend Chuck Berry, the result of a misunderstanding at a Berry tribute concert.

One of Wyman's favorites is not of any of the Stones, but of one of their heroes, blues great John Lee Hooker, shot from the side of the stage during a concert.

"John Lee Hooker in 1969 -- fantastic!" he says of the shot. "Shows him like a god, humble and proud."

The distinct perspective of that shot is a motif through much of Wyman's portfolio, an angle necessitated by the Stones' fame.

"Whenever I went to see shows by other artists, it was almost impossible," he says of the madness that would ensue if he tried to mingle with the audience or shoot among the other photographers in front of the stage. "I had to take from the curtains off stage. I managed to get things like [the Hooker photo] sometimes. Did ones of Elton John, the Who, all shot through curtains at the side of the stage. They're unique because others didn't get that point of view."

Wyman stresses that although he understands the public's foremost interest in his photos of the Stones and other stars (the focus of this exhibit), the majority of his catalog is not of people at all -- and are perhaps even more revealing of the rock star life.

"I took hundreds of pictures outside hotel room windows when stuck in the room," he says. "It was nice when it was sunny and you saw the shadows on the pavement. Really nice pictures like that all over the world. And it was a nice thing being able to travel, take pictures on holiday in Fiji or Bali or going by myself into the outback of Australia -- Ayers Rock and Alice Springs, taking pictures of rare eagles, dingoes on a hill. That was special."

On the people side of his art, he also has an extensive series of photos featuring painter Marc Chagall, whom he befriended while living in France in the '80s, an experience captured through words and pictures in one of Wyman's books.

Today, though, he's got so little time for photography, he has no regrets about retirement. "The last 10 years have been the best times of my life, I swear!" he says. "Should have done it sooner. I should have left years ago. Just fantastic. Everyone comes to me for ideas and projects. It's just great to be part of so many different things rather than just music."


`Wyman Shoots'

Where: Morrison Hotel Gallery, 7517 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.

When: Opening reception, 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday; regular hours, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Ends: April 15

Info: (323) 874-2068,

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