Laura Levine
Guardian Interview
posted: February 20, 2010
This weekend's Guardian (UK) newspaper interviews eight rock and roll photographers about some of their favorite shots. The photographers spill with some pretty interesting and revealing stories behind the photographs. I talk about my 1984 photo of R.E.M. at Walter's Bar-B-Que in Athens Georgia. I enjoyed being interviewed in depth about just one image.

The photographers and their subjects:

Ian Dickson: Bob Marley, 1975
Ray Stevenson: Jimi Hendrix, 1967
Gered Mankowitz: Marianne Faithfull, 1964
Jill Furmanovsky: Joy Division, 1979
Laura Levine: R.E.M., 1984
Bob Gruen: Tina Turner, 1970
Guy Webster: The Mamas & the Papas, 1966
Anton Corbijn: U2, 1986

Here's my interview, and if you click on the link you can read the others.

The band were about to release their second ­album, Reckoning, and as their record label didn't have a budget to send a photographer, I flew down to Athens, Georgia, on my own dime to shoot pictures and spend a few days with my friends. The five of us explored every nook and cranny that had photogenic possibilities – railroad tracks, abandoned factories, roadside signs, RA Miller's whirligig yard and, of course, Walter's Bar-B-Que. Truthfully, we stopped at Walter's because we were hungry. It wasn't a staged shot. While we were eating I saw a great photograph there, so I took it.

I first heard about REM from a friend who handed me their homemade cassette Radio Free Europe/Sitting Still. He thought I might like their music, and he was right. I arranged to do a photo session with them when they came up to play New York City in 1982 for the New York Rocker, where I was chief photographer and photo editor.

I photographed REM more than any other band – and probably more than any other photographer – in a four-year span. They were still coming up at the time: on a small record label, playing clubs, driving their own van and sleeping on floors. I could sense they were on their way to even greater success, and the photojournalist in me wanted to document that process. I often travelled with them, photographing them backstage, on stage, in motel rooms and at home.

Michael, Peter, Bill and Mike were some of the easiest and most agreeable guys I've ever worked with. I think the fact that we were all friends brought an extra level of fun and trust to a process that can sometimes, I realise, be a drag for the musicians.

The photograph has a special place in my heart not only because of the friendship, but because it documents a time and a place that disappeared soon after. It was a very happy time of fun, youth, experimentation and endless potential. I don't suppose any of us could have imagined how much would change in just a few years' time. It captures those last moments of ­innocence before they moved on to the wonderful successes that they did. But mostly, for me, when I look at this photograph, I see my four friends chowing down on a good meal, smiling, relaxing and being themselves.

Prints of this image are available here.
Expanded interview on R.E.M.'s website here.

• All photographs appear in Who Shot Rock & Roll, by Gail Buckland.
Andy Ward February 21, 2010
YAAAY! congrats Laura! The Guardian is one of the good guys, great to see your interview - and GREAT photo!
Laura Levine February 21, 2010
Thanks, Andy!
J.D. King February 22, 2010
Right band/photographer/place/time..!
Kyle T Webster February 22, 2010
Great photo.