BOSTON -- R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe may be spending time
behind the scenes promoting his band's upcoming album, but eager fans
here are getting their fix of the charismatic rocker by feasting their
eyes on his snapshots at an exhibit organized at Boston University.
While followers of rock mega-group R.E.M. await the release of the Athens,
Ga., band's new CD, Up (Oct. 27), many are flocking to the photo
exhibit featuring Stipe's shots of punk-poet Patti Smith.
The exhibit, "Two Times Intro: Photographs by Michael Stipe, with
Drawings by Patti Smith and Polaroid Prints by Oliver Ray," currently on
display at the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University,
includes 26 photos culled from Stipe's photo book, "Two Times Intro."
"It's a sensitive and interesting look at an artist making a visual essay
of music," said Sara Rosenfeld Dassel, director of exhibitions at the
Photographic Resource Center . "It provides a glimpse into the other side
of Stipe's art-making [that]
most [fans] were unaware of."
Stipe's photo collection, along with drawings by Smith and Polaroids by Smith
guitarist Oliver Ray -- all of which will be on display through Oct. 23 --
came out of Stipe's experience tagging along for two weeks with the pioneering
punk-rocker during her 1995 tour with folk-rock legend Bob Dylan.
The photos from that trek capture the isolation and exhaustion of a rock
'n' roll tour. In many of the snapshots, Stipe uses peculiar angles and
blurred images in much the same way that he employs obscure lyrics and mumbled
phrases in his music.
One of the prints shows Smith wandering around the wet floor of a locker-room
shower with her hands and arms positioned as if she were playing acoustic
air-guitar. Another is an almost X-ray-like still of her right forearm
held up to a stage light that glares through a long shirt-sleeve covering her
"I was kind-of awed when I realized that the pictures on the wall that were
blown up so big and framed -- and that people walking by were looking at
detesting, admiring, loving them -- were pictures I'd taken," Stipe was
quoted as saying in the Boston Herald.
While Stipe's photos garner the most interest, Dassel said it's
important to remember that the exhibit offers three different artistic
viewpoints: Stipe's photos, Smith's drawings and Ray's Polaroids. The
point is to give a multilayered view of the different ways these
individuals expressed themselves during that time. It's not just
a collection of Smith photos, she said, but more a study of a woman
and her friends on tour.
"Michael [Stipe] provides the outside view of a tour from the aspect of a
who's used to being on the inside," Dassel said. "As he was not touring
as a musician, he was not suffering the great ramifications that Smith and
her band were going through."
Other photos in the exhibit include a semivisible head-shot of Sonic Youth
bassist Kim Gordon cradling her child, Coco, in her lap; and side-by-side
shots of late Beat poet Allen Ginsberg holding a camera.
Visitors to the Photographic Resource Center were divided in their feelings
on Stipe's exhibit.
"I think the portraits are amazing," said Janice Graham, 21, a student at
Boston College. "They were done so lovingly and with such curious angles.
I love it ... and I love Michael [Stipe]."
Kevin Steiner, 25, a New York resident visiting Boston, disagreed. "These
photos probably mean something to Stipe and his friends ... and that's
fine," he said. "A few of the pictures are good, but technically, most are
horrible. Artistically, Stipe does express himself in eccentric ways, but
in this case, it just doesn't work."
Dassel sees the exhibit as a positive opportunity to build a larger
audience for the Photographic Resource Center . People coming to see
Stipe's photos also
expressed interest in the other, unrelated exhibit taking place
simultaneously, she said, adding that the crowd-size for the exhibit is
among the largest that the Photographic Resource Center has ever enjoyed.
Those words were echoed by John P. Jacob, executive director of the
Resource Center. "Since the exhibit opened, there are always people in the
gallery," he said.
"By comparison to the attendance of, say, an academic show, the size of
the crowds has been great."
In addition to "Two Times Intro: Photographs by Michael Stipe," the
Resource Center has had two recent rock-related presentations. The success of
the "Lou Reed on Photography" (June 1997) and "Being There: Photographs by
and Karen Whitford" (the wives of Aerosmith's Joe Perry and Brad Whitford,
exhibits preceded Stipe's work. The singer's photos were previously
displayed in New York's Robert Miller Gallery, from which the photos are
After its Boston run, there are presently no touring plans for Stipe's