Former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe just recently got back to recording new music, but he’s been more involved with art and photography since the band dissolved eight years ago. He stopped by the New York Public Library on Friday night (11/1) for a special discussion and Q&A in celebration of his new photography book, Our Interference Times: A Visual Record. Joining him for the conversation was co-author and old friend Douglas Coupland (Generation X), along with sculptor and NYU contemporary arts professor Jonathan Berger, who discussed themes such as mass communication in the age of social media, generational change, and political polarization, which informed the photography in Our Interference Times.

Stipe began the discussion by tracing his artistic past and love for the medium of photography, which predated the formation of R.E.M., calling photography his “first love.” He later discussed his distaste for Instagram and its negative effects on perception and mental health in our current political climate, but singled out longtime friend and musical collaborator Patti Smith for her unique, refreshing use of the platform.

Coupland used Stipe’s views on social media as an opportunity to discuss generationally driven polarization in politics, which Stipe viewed as a serious issue. He also cited the comments he made in a recent MSNBC interview (watch below), where he criticized Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for deciding to ban political ads from the platform, when he felt it was already “too late.” Stipe also admitted he no longer follows the news regularly, only receiving occasional updates from friends through email and text as his primary source of information. However, he also acknowledged the positive effects social media can have on encouraging political change, name-dropping teen activist Greta Thunberg as a prime example of important youth activism in the current era.

During the Q&A session, Stipe was asked whether he thought “outsider art” was still a concept in this hyper-digital, over-commercialized age; he responded with a personal anecdote, where he passed by a man in the Bryant Park subway station making miniature Broadway theater replicas out of strictly cardboard, confirming his belief that “outsider art” indeed still exists.

You can view photos of the discussion in the gallery above. R.E.M. recently released a 25th anniversary box set reissue of their 1994 LP Monster, including a new remix of the album from producer Scott Litt.

 

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photos by Toby Tenenbaum