As an undergraduate art major at the University of Georgia in the early 1980s, Michael Stipe studied photography and painting before going on to become a singer and songwriter for R.E.M., his band for over thirty years. Here, Stipe talks about his new book, Volume 1, which collects some of his photography from the past thirty-eight years and was recently published by Damiani. The book was produced in collaboration with artist Jonathan Berger and designer Julian Bittiner.
ABOUT TEN YEARS AGO, we all went through a terrifying period when we collectively convinced ourselves that books and print were going away forever and everything was going to become backlit and digitized. We've now come full circle to realize that we like holding tactile things and we like collecting and having books in our lives. Having never figured out how to show the work I was doing outside of music—the tangible work—I thought books might be the best way to do that. Volume 1 is the first in a series with Damiani. I'd like to create four or five volumes.
Photography is truly the most honest medium in my life. I was interested in it before music, as a teenager. At fourteen, I started taking pictures with my father's Nikon, and I enrolled in a photography class. Music landed on me the next year through Patti Smith and the CBGB scene. In my timeline, photography came first and held on. As a creative person, I don't like or trust my line; I'm a terrible painter—I proved that in art school many years ago. I don't like my signature, my autograph, or my speaking voice. So photography remains the most honest and truest way to try to describe what I'm feeling and thinking about. I never really wrote anything beyond lyrics, and so the images I take, along with what I consider to be beautiful photographs, are somewhat diaristic. I love their simplicity, and I love the mistakes.