Michael Stipe, The Muse

Michael Stipe, from PRESENCE

Walking up 6th Avenue from Canal Street with Dave Matthews, who I’d just shot for Presence, and we crossed paths with Michael Stipe. They greeted each other warmly, compatriots in the pop music world.  I introduced myself to Michael and invited him to participate in my photo series, showing him a handful of 8×10″ examples. He quietly asked for my business card and told me that he’d be in touch if he liked my website.

I wasn’t meeting Michael for the first time though, I had photographed him for two different photo projects while in college in the mid-eighties.

When I first started shooting musicians I was paralyzed as to what I’d do once I was in the room with them. My solution was to approach them with a specific photo series, and the reasonable approach was photographing their feet. This is how Rock Star’s Footwear was born. I ended up photographing about eight different musicians’ feet, including Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Michael Scott of The Waterboys and Greg Ginn of Black Flag, but the crowning achievement was getting backstage at the R.E.M. show in 1984 and meeting Michael Stipe.

Michael was friendly and soft-spoken. We chatted for a minute or two and then I shot one frame of his shoes.

Michael Stipe, from Rock Star’s Footwear, Summer 1984.

A year later the band toured through Toronto again and I had a new series idea and hoped to initiate it with Michael. With a print from our previous sitting in hand I approached him after the show. Again, he was friendly, but this time in an intense engaged way. I explained that I was now photographing people with objects of value that they carry with them. He looked me in the eye as I spoke, and would nod and reply to my questions and comments.

The Things People Carry series ended up being shot with musicians coming through town over the next seven months. In each the sitter would discuss their object (always something of a sentimental, non practical value), and then be photographed with it, and without it. This was the beginning of my braving the waters of proper portraiture.

I’ve just now added the best of the series onto my website, featuring six sets of artists in twenty images, with the audio clips included. The artists include Michael Stipe, John Cale, They Might Be Giants, Sun Ra, Johnny Thunders, and Mark E. Smith.

Michael Stipe, from the Things People Carry series, August 16, 1985.

Michael Stipe’s object of desire, from Things People Carry, 1985.

A week after giving Michael my business card I received an email from him asking to set up a time to shoot Presence with him. We shot soon after, doing three scenarios with him hiding himself in West Soho. He was really sweet and cooperative, and we made one of my favorite shots in the series. He also had no recollection of our earlier collaborations.

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