- Victoria Comstock-Kershaw
R.E.M FRONTMAN MICHAEL STIPE OFFERS A FRESH LOOK AT PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Michael Stipe may be known for his work as the frontman of 1980s American rock band R.E.M, but it is his talent as a photographer that is championed in his book Our Interference Times: a visual record. The monograph is an exploration of memory and photography in the digital age with an achingly retro and excessively cool visual appeal.
"A lot of creation is work — it’s the mundane. But within the mundane, you find those moments that are mistakes, (...) and from that, I find grace and God. That’s where I find holiness is — usually in the mistakes." Stipe told the New York Times last year. His talent for finding and exposing the beautiful in the ordinary is the driving force behind the 190 images in Our Interferences: passport photos, glitched out computers, and cross-country car rides are transformed under his lens into fluid and engaging scenes of vulnerability and nostalgia. Glitches, aliased screens and analog mistakes are presented to the viewer with simultaneous sharpness and obscurity, in turn flipping our views of the imperfect and defective.
There is a tender, gentle overtone to his portraiture that borders on diffidence: rarely are there any faces, but ethereal snapshots of necks, backs, shoulders, collarbones. "It might be a built-in shyness," he commented, "Although bringing a camera up automatically alters the experience of being with another person. I might have been capturing certain moments by not being that direct."
The reshaping of photographic technology also plays a central role to his work: we are driven to rethink our own definitions of how good photography is made through failed 3D scans of the photographers face and retro-cool snaps of French Fotomats, vintage alarm clocks, and hoarded David Bowie magazines. There's a hint of the opaque detachment that Stipe's vocals with R.E.M were renowned for, which translates into an unabashed refusal to accept the mundane as being unworthy of documentation. Even the extraordinary - like the photos of the whales he watches off the coast of Mexico - is transformed beneath the grainy, anti-aliased filter of the photo of a screen. The book is a visual treat that finds virtue in the unexpected, charm in the abstract, and nostalgia in the modern.
Image credits: Michael Stipe, courtesy of Damiani Press.