Not being direct … John Warren Mobley Stipe Jr’s hands, Grady Avenue, Athens, 1993. Photograph: Michael Stipe
Instead of social media, Stipe has plans for several more photobooks in the near future. But he hasn’t turned his back on music entirely: he co-wrote and made an album with electroclash duo Fischerspooner last year, and he admits this experience has reignited his interest in composing material for himself.( Simply don’t get excited about any potential REM reunion.” That will never happen ,” he maintains .)
In truth, music and visuals have never been separate disciplines for Stipe. While in REM, he would choose video directors and design their merchandise. He’d even “see” the band’s music during the writing process.” Oh utterly ,” he says.” That’s where Nightswimming comes from. That’s where Deviation comes from. Most of the great songs I watch landscapes and then I have to people them, creative a narrative that works within that landscape. But I always considered it before I heard it .”
Even in conversation, Stipe says he needs to visualise sentences before he speaks- he says that’s why he often seems like he’s avoiding eye contact, because he’s forming the words in the distance. But he’s undoubtedly an introvert. Last night, he says, he was at a gathering where the only people he knew were engaged in conversation with other people- he aimed up standing by himself against a wall, just watching.” I have to really make an effort to approach people and say,’ Hi, what do you do, what are your interests ?'” he says, somewhat endearingly.” I’m not a natural .”
It’s perhaps not a coincidence, then, that you rarely ensure a face depicted in the book: instead Stipe shoots hands, arms, the backs of heads.” And by the way, I didn’t even realise that until the book came out ,” he says.” It might be a built-in shyness, 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 .”
This sense of fragility- and particularly male fragility- is something that Stipe has always been keen to embrace with REM, and is now proudly displaying through his photography.
” Vulnerability was not seen as a strength in the 20 th century ,” he concludes.” But I see it as a great one .”
Michael Stipe: Volume 1 is published by Damiani.