When bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur packed her bags for Hole's Australian tour in January, she included her clothes, music gear and one other tour essential: her cameras.
As it is for many rock musicians, photography is a creative companion for Auf Der Maur (link to Auf Der Maur Q&A) both on the road and in daily life. She has been chronicling her life, mainly through self-portraiture, for more than a decade.
R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe (link to Stipe Q&A), who began taking photos at 15, has done much the same thing. And former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro
(link to Navarro Q&A), taking cues from late pop artist Andy Warhol's famed series of portraits, has gone both retro and digital with his photography: He shoots photo-booth strips and makes computer-generated photo montages.
Photography, all three musicians said, allows one to express something music can't always capture.
"I'm obsessed with not losing any memories," said Auf Der Maur, who studied fine-art photography at Concordia University in her native Montreal, Quebec. "For whatever reason, photos are the optimum way to capture memories, and meanwhile I'm making music, which is the soundtrack to my memories"
Auf Der Maur said she began thinking visually long before picking up a bass. She began shooting photos at age 10, and at Concordia she was encouraged to delve into her exploratory self-portraiture. Some of that self-investigation can be seen in recent issues of the rock magazines Alternative Press and Spin, which both featured self-portraits and crowd shots captured by the bassist.
Holding on to memories and capturing lyrical moments in time is a common thread among all three musician/photographers. Stipe, whose band has built a two-decade career on evocative songs featuring Stipe's filmic lyrics, said he feels at times more comfortable with his photography than with his music.
"I'm a terrible drawer; I'm an even worse painter," Stipe said. "My primary interest in terms of the arts was photography, from the age of 15, ... the same year that I heard [Patti Smith's] Horses. The two, in my head, always went hand-in-hand"
In 1998 Stipe published "Two Times Intro: On the Road With Patti Smith," which features his shots of his idol. "I feel," he said, "like there's not a real clear dividing line between the impact that music can have and the impact that a great photograph can have."
Navarro, who was also in Jane's Addiction, said, "With music, it's all about trying to re-create a feeling with sound, painting a sound landscape that is for the most part metaphor. When you're making music you have to take the metaphorical elements and create something real, but with photos you can go backwards and take what's real and try to frame it in terms of what's metaphorical. I like the duality of that."
The guitarist has spent the past year documenting his life with a '60s-style
photo booth in the living room of his Los Angeles home. He asks everyone
who visits to pose for a strip. The strips will be published in an
upcoming book, "Trust No One."
He said the immediacy of Polaroid and photo-booth imagery satisfies his
need for instant gratification.
"I don't have to wait a week or ... go into a darkroom to see what I was
feeling or thinking ... or attempting to see," Navarro said. "If I'm
feeling it right then, I want to see it right then"
Self-portraiture and images of peers are common themes among rock musicians, from Sparklehorse leader Mark Linkous, whose out-of-focus photos on the sleeve of his new album, Good Morning Spider, match the ethereal sound of his band's songs, to Crosby, Stills and Nash singer Graham Nash, whose documentary-style photos of his musician friends adorn the walls of the Suite: Judy Blue Eyes Room at San Francisco's Triton Hotel. The room is named for a Crosby, Stills and Nash song.
Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, who is often seen with a movie camera strapped to his hand, helped snap the dozens of photos that accompanied the Pearl Jam album No Code (1996).
The crossover from musician to photographer can work both ways.
Linda McCartney, the late wife of ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, was renowned for her picture-taking before she joined his band Wings. And San Francisco's Charles Peterson, whose action photos visually defined Seattle's grunge explosion, said he recently took up DJing as an extension of his photography. "I didn't start playing instruments until a year ago," Peterson, 35, said.
"For someone like Stipe or Melissa, it's a thing where they're in the position where they can afford to have that hobby," Peterson said. "They have the opportunity to see and experience so many people, places and things. I'm sure they feel like if they have an inkling of talent it's a wonderful opportunity for them. Music can only take you so far, especially when you're playing the same thing over and over again every night."
Stipe echoed Peterson's sentiment; he said one of the things that has kept R.E.M. vital for so long is their openness to branching out. "Whatever your mother ship is, whether you're in a collaboration between musicians, ... it's important to have something outside of that, to have something that is selfishly ... your own," Stipe said.
In addition to taking snapshots for nearly 30 years, Stipe has two film companies, C-oo and Single Cell. He said he's working on a photography book that will likely feature images of a globe-trotting rocker's second home, airports.
For artists who are constantly in the spotlight, often in the cross hairs of another photographer's camera, self-portraiture can be a means of self-discovery.
"There's something about wanting to teach yourself something about your own psyche that you can't see on a day-to-day basis that you can see within an image that you take of yourself," Navarro said.
Auf Der Maur said her years of photographic self-reflection were more about investigating human nature than vanity.
"It's not at all like I'm obsessed with the Melissa thing," she said.
"I'm obsessed with human development and human life, and what better
subject than myself? ... Anybody can look at your photographs and get
something from it. How amazing it is that you can trick anybody into
looking at life through your eyes."