R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe Focuses On Patti Smith In Photo Essay

Exhibit of singer's snapshots includes drawings by punk poet and Polaroids by guitarist Oliver Ray.

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

hand.

"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

it, hating,

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

musician

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

Photographic

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

Photographic

Resource Center has had two recent rock-related presentations. The success of

the "Lou Reed on Photography" (June 1997) and "Being There: Photographs by

Billie Perry

and Karen Whitford" (the wives of Aerosmith's Joe Perry and Brad Whitford,

respectively)

exhibits preceded Stipe's work. The singer's photos were previously

displayed in New York's Robert Miller Gallery, from which the photos are

on loan.

After its Boston run, there are presently no touring plans for Stipe's

photo collection.