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Bill Wyman's view of the world

Former Stones bassist prepares show of photos

By Todd Leopold
CNN

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Bill Wyman in 2003 with one of his books. An exhibit of his photographs is about to go on display.

IF YOU GO ...

What: "Wyman Shoots," an exhibit of Bill Wyman's photographs
Where: The San Francisco Art Exchange, 458 Geary St., San Francisco, California 94102
When: Opens June 9 to the public
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Pacific, Sunday-Wednesday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Thursday-Saturday
More information: (415) 441-8840 or (800) 344-9633

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(CNN) -- In 1965 -- the year of "Satisfaction" -- the Rolling Stones were finally starting to make some rock-star money. The members of the group purchased houses, cars and started investing in their individual passions.

Bill Wyman bought a camera and a complete set of lenses.

Photography wasn't a new hobby for Wyman, the Stones' bassist until the mid-'90s. He was actually a photographer before he was a musician, an enthusiast who started with his uncle's box camera just after World War II. But life with the Stones gave him the money, and the time, to truly indulge in the pastime.

He's been snapping away for more than 40 years now.

Click: There are Marc and Vava Chagall, Wyman's neighbors from the south of France.

Click: There's Mick Jagger, admiring Keith Richards' new python-skin boots at the 1968 "Rock and Roll Circus."

Click: There's former Jagger squeeze Jerry Hall, the hint of a smile on her defiant face, casually smoking a cigarette.

Click: There's a slightly haunted Nicky Hopkins, the famed session pianist, framed in the light of an airplane window.

Wyman, now 69, sees similarities between being a photographer and being a bassist.

"When you're playing bass in the Stones, you have to be quite intuitive," he says in a phone interview from his home in England. Photography takes similar initiative: "You have to have an eye for the good shot," he says.

'It's an incredibly boring lifestyle'

Some of Wyman's best shots will be on display at the San Francisco Art Exchange beginning June 9, in an exhibit put together with London-based Raj Prem Fine Art Photography. Wyman says he sorted through more than 22,000 negatives, slides and Polaroids before narrowing the group down to about 150 images.

The works include candids of the Rolling Stones -- on- and offstage -- other bands and musicians, Wyman friends such as the Chagalls and landscapes taken on his travels all over the world.

What's fascinating about many of the shots, particularly those of musicians, is how intimate they are. The rock 'n' roll life can be exciting, but it's also full of down time -- sound checks, airports, dinner on the run, quiet pensiveness in the ride to the show. Wyman kept his camera handy and chronicled all of it.

"It's an incredibly boring lifestyle, or it was then [in the 1960s] when you couldn't go out because of the fans," he says. "When the mad fan thing was going on ... once you got deposited in your hotel room you were there until you left the next day to go to the next place, or to go to the gig. And then you came back to that room and all there was to do was watch TV, unless you met a pretty young lady somewhere," he adds with a chuckle. "So the camera came in very, very useful."

The Stones have also been in the viewfinders of some of the world's most notable photographers, including Terry O'Neill, Ethan Russell, David Bailey and Gered Mankowitz. (The latter took the striking cover shot for 1967's "Between the Buttons.") Indeed, O'Neill -- whose work ranges from portraits of the queen to profiles of rock stars -- has been a great supporter of Wyman's work over the years, and helped prompt him to set up the exhibition.

Wyman has watched the photographers watch the Stones, picking up bits of expertise. But, he adds, he's strictly an amateur.

"I've never tried to be a professional photographer," he says. "I was an amateur who just tried to get a few good shots."

The photogenic Charlie Watts

cover.buttons.jpg
Wyman's learned from many photographers, including Gered Mankowitz, who took the "Between the Buttons" cover photo.

WYMAN'S TOOLS

About that camera Bill Wyman purchased in 1965: It's a Nikkormat, a 35-millimeter classic.

Wyman's owned several different cameras over the years -- "I still have every camera I've ever bought," he says -- but always comes back to his first love.

"I've tried others -- I used a Hasselblad for awhile, and I got some nice pictures of Sweden in the winter and like that," he says. "But I love that Nikkormat. It does exactly what I want."

Wyman's had plenty of opportunities. He's particularly pleased with a 1966 shot of the late Brian Jones sitting in the back of a car, viewed in the reflection of a rear-view mirror. "That's a great one," says Wyman.

Though Jagger and Richards tend to be the most-pictured Stones in magazines -- Jagger always ready with a prancing pose, cigarette-equipped Richards lovingly wrapped around his guitar -- Wyman prefers to snap his old rhythm-section colleague, drummer Charlie Watts.

"He was the one who was the most unfazed when you take pictures of him," says Wyman. "Others will say, 'Don't take a picture of me [now],' but Charlie would never do that. ... Charlie would always be my favorite subject, because he never minded what you did. Whatever pose or position he was in, he was very photogenic. And whatever hat or wig he's wearing, it always looks like it fits."

Wyman, who grew up working-class in south London, is grateful for the luxuries his music career brought him. Besides his photography, he's written several books (including "Rolling with the Stones," a 2002 history of the band), been in the restaurant business, indulged in his fascination with archaeology and raised "three beautiful daughters." Not to mention the music, which he's still playing with his current band, the Rhythm Kings.

"My life has been full of variety," he says, "so to do something with the photographs, after 40 years ... I'm thrilled to bits with it."

He stays on the lookout for the next shot. You never know where it's going to be, he says.

After all, on a 1982 around-the-world trip (where, he says impishly in reference to a certain guitarist's mishap, "I didn't climb a tree [for coconuts] -- I let other people do it"), he traveled to the Australian outback and got some "fantastic pictures." As he rode down some dirt roads near Alice Springs, his guide spotted a rare wedge-tailed eagle.

"I said 'Stop! Stop!' and grabbed my camera. ... And as I took the picture, he flew away," he says. "But I got the shot."

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