Hollywood celebrity photographer shows work in Reno
Back before the days of paparazzi, Charles Adams was known as one of Hollywood’s top celebrity photographers.
Adams, who has lived in Carson City since 2000, will have 50 of his framed prints on exhibit in Reno through Dec. 30, featuring a wide variety of musicians from Ted Nugent to the soulful Aretha Franklin.
The show, “Express Yourself,” is a celebration of the love of music, said Adams, and is at the Bethel African American Cultural Center, 220 Bell St., Reno.
Adams said the title of the exhibit came from one of the musicians he photographed, Ruth Brown, who said, “Whatever we do as musicians, we are expressing ourselves. Anything else you get is just icing on the cake.”
Adams talks about his photography style as capturing “decisive moments,” where a photographer doesn’t just shoot off a lot of rapid-fire photos, but waits, instead, for just the right image.
“They are little vignettes of life, and they were all people I thought were interesting,” Adams said. “Our so-called celebrities – in the end, they’re only people, but I caught them as legends, icons, when they were at the top of their game.”
Among the people shown in the exhibit are Sammy Davis Jr., Bette Midler, Dinah Shore, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Janet Jackson, Kenny Loggins, Rudy Vallee, Sarah Vaughan, Peter Tosh, Eartha Kitt, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Lola Falana and Tina Turner.
For every shot, there is a story behind it, Adams said, and he likes surprising people with little-known trivia.
David Hasselhoff, for instance, he said, made his mark in television in America, but was a recording artist in Germany before that.
Adams also has a photo of the notorious Paul Watkins, who was a member of Charles Manson’s family. Although he didn’t participate in the Sharon Tate murders, he later was a witness for the state during the trial.
“But before that,” Adams said, “he was a musician; his band was the Sundowners.”
Many also don’t remember that Marlon Brando sang in “Guys and Dolls,” Adams said.
“During his day, he was known for not smiling in photographs. It was just not his vibe,” Adams said.
But one day, when Brando was on stage at an event at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Adams asked him to smile. Brando ignored the request but when Brando left the stage, he walked up to Adams and smiled.
“Of course, I caught it,” Adams said.
Before Marvin Gaye died, Adams snapped a photo of the singer folding his hands in prayer.
“Two weeks later, he was shot to death by his father,” Adams said. “His father was a preacher and he was raised in his father’s church.”
Adams also talks about the photo he has of Stevie Wonder.
“He always wore sunglasses, but I got a shot of him from the side, where you could see his eyes open,” Adams said.
Adams feels a bit sentimental about his photo of Aretha Franklin, who is now battling pancreatic cancer.
“It’s ‘Respect,’ and she is straight-forward and bold, like she’s demanding her rights right now while she’s going through this illness,” he said.
When Ray Charles was given his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he could hear Adams speaking. He said in a loud voice, “I can’t see you, Charles, but I can hear you,” said Adams’ publicist Chris Harris.
“And when Chuck Berry got his star, he did his famous ‘duck walk’ for Charles Adams,” Harris said.
When Adams was in fourth grade, he went to school with Gladys Knight in Atlanta.
“She was always the keynote singer at all events. She later got together with a couple of her cousins, and they became Gladys Knight and the Pips,” he said. “When I met her later, I called her Gladys Marie Knight, and she knew I was someone from her past.”
Harris tells the story of when President Barack Obama was campaigning, he made a stop in Carson City. That stop was at the home of Charles Adams.
When the president entered Charles’ home, he took note of the all the photographs on the walls. Obama took special note of “The Champ” Muhammad Ali.
When Obama said, “He was my hero,” Adams reached up and removed the photograph, signing it over to the president.
“Whether it was Scatman Crothers in the backyard of his home strumming a banjo or James Brown on stage giving his all to thousands of fans, Charles Adams was there to record that moment in time through photography, which was later shared throughout the world in magazines, newspapers and in exhibits,” Harris said.
During the past year, Adams has been working on a book, which will include the famous people he has photographed over more than three decades.
“Many of those images tell a story of Hollywood that most people have never seen in photographs,” Harris said.
Show hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 2-5 p.m. Sunday and noon-5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
After the last showing in December at the cultural center, the photographic works will be available for sale. For more information, call Greg Lewis at 775-848-0578.