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Barnev Valsaint, Celine Dion’s lead backup vocalist, presents photography at gallery

Barnev Valsaint has no intention of quitting his “day” job.

He promised his boss — Caesars Palace headliner Celine Dion — he wouldn’t.

But Valsaint, Dion’s lead backup vocalist, now has another art form on which to focus: photography.

“The French Collection” — five images Valsaint captured while touring with Dion — are on display at Carnevale Gallery, in Caesars’ Appian Way Shops.

From dramatic black-and-white nightscapes of Paris’ signature Eiffel Tower to the legendary Moulin Rouge’s whirling red windmill, Valsaint’s photographs reveal an eye as finely tuned as his ear.

Yet he “wasn’t even thinking about” exhibiting his pictures when he wandered into the Carnevale Gallery, during Dion’s most recent Caesars stay, to peruse images shot by photographer and conservationist David Yarrow.

Valsaint told Tony Carnevale he also took photographs, then showed the gallery owner some images on his iPad. Carnevale had no idea Valsaint performed alongside Dion until the singer returned the following day wearing a badge identifying him as a member of Dion’s crew.

“What exploded from Barnev was his passion for fine-art photography,” says Carnevale, who responded to the “tremendous subject matter” and “colorful, vibrant and fun” images by offering to sell limited editions of selected Valsaint photographs. (They’re available in four size options, priced from $2,200 to $4,800; Dion bought the largest versions, according to the gallery owner.)

Valsaint, 40, has worked with Dion since 1999, after he successfully auditioned as a backup singer in their native Quebec.

As a teen, Valsaint scored a chart-topping Canadian hit, “Soul Pleureur,” with the group Dubmatique, but he calls his current gig “the best job ever.”

And that “dream job” led to his debut as a fine-art photographer, because Valsaint shot his “French Collection” images during his first world tour with Dion.

“I was really excited,” he says of the tour photo ops. “I started buying camera after camera.”

Those digital models were a far cry from the point-and-shoot cameras he used as a kid. (That’s also when Valsaint discovered music, singing “every Sunday at church.”)

The singer honed his photographic eye through what he calls “YouTube University,” watching online videos to learn. “When I started, I had no idea with apertures and F-stops” to control exposure. “The cameras were so complex. I had to start from scratch.”

Now, however, photography “definitely feeds another side of my artistic being,” he says. “It’s such a freeing, freeing experience. The picture becomes alive, almost.”

Not that Valsaint knows what he’ll be photographing — until he sees it.

“Sometimes I do street (photography), sometimes architecture and landscapes. I love to walk around and when I see something, I shoot it,” he says.

Dion and other musical colleagues visited the gallery recently to celebrate Valsaint’s debut as a professional photographer.

“Barnev, I really want to encourage you — please, keep that passion,” Dion told her backup singer. “But please don’t stop singing.”

Read more from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at ccling@reviewjournal.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

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