Laura Levine Shot Rock: The Photographer On Her Photo of R.E.M.

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R.E.M, Walter's Bar-B-Que, Athens, Georgia, 1984

By Laura Levine

R.E.M. and I clicked from the moment we met at our first photo shoot in my Chinatown apartment back in 1982. We became close friends, and over the next few years as we spent an increasing amount of time together, I photographed them more than any other band before or since: on the road, at their homes, in my studio, backstage and onstage.

This particular photograph was taken in March 1984 in their hometown, of Athens, Georgia. The band was about to release its second album, Reckoning, and since their record label didn't have a budget to send a photographer to Athens to do a publicity session, I flew down on my own dime to shoot pictures, make a Super-8 film (Just Like a Movie) and spend a few days hanging out with my friends.

For the next few days I shot rolls and rolls of film as the five of us explored every nook and cranny in Athens that had photogenic possibilities - the railroad tracks, abandoned factories, trees blanketed in kudzu, outsider artist R.A. Miller's whirlygig yard and, of course, Walter's Bar-B-Que.  Actually, this shot at Walter's wasn't even planned. We'd been taking photos all morning and we'd worked up quite an appetite, so we stopped into Walter's for lunch (It was the guys' favorite BBQ joint).  While we were eating I looked around and saw a great photograph there, so I stepped behind the counter and quickly took a few frames (I'm afraid I didn't even allow them to eat their meals in peace).  By the way, that's my plate of food in front of Michael Stipe.

This photograph has a special place in my heart not only because of our friendship, but because it documents a time and a place that disappeared soon thereafter. (Even Walter's is long out of business). I don't suppose any us of could have imagined how much would change in just a few years' time. It captures those last moments of innocence, just as they were on the cusp of stardom and about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.  But mostly, for me, when I look at this photograph, I see my four friends being themselves, smiling, relaxing, and chowing down on a good Southern meal.

See Laura Levine's other images in the Who Shot Rock & Roll exhibit, currently showing at the Annenberg Space for Photography. To learn more about the photographer and her work visit her official website.

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