On the Road with REM

I was first introduced to REM as a photographer/waiter in 2001 by their tour manager (and my teen-hood friend) Bob Whittaker. REM was gearing up for two back-to-back tours, and Michael Stipe was in need of a personal assistant. Michael and I became fast friends. The band knew I was a freelance photographer in Seattle, so I became their tour photographer as well. I ended up traveling with REM for more than seven years, which included over 250 concerts, video shoots, promo tours, and (my favorite)

David Belisle has been a tour photographer for many years now, largely working with legendary band REM (and recently the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). In 2008 he published a book of photographs called REM: Hello (Chronicle Books, $30) that recounted the many years he traveled with Michael Stipe and crew (originally as Stipe's personal assistant). Here, Belisle tells the story behind one of his favorite photos from touring—and not a single instrument is to be found. The image will also be the lead photo in a solo show at the Leica Gallery in Solms, Germany later this year:

I was first introduced to REM as a photographer/waiter in 2001 by their tour manager (and my teen-hood friend) Bob Whittaker. REM was gearing up for two back-to-back tours, and Michael Stipe was in need of a personal assistant. Michael and I became fast friends. The band knew I was a freelance photographer in Seattle, so I became their tour photographer as well. I ended up traveling with REM for more than seven years, which included over 250 concerts, video shoots, promo tours, and (my favorite) their induction into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The photo “Leaving Russia” was taken on January 27, 2005. We arrived at St. Petersburg around 2pm in our tour busses, but our stage and lighting equipment was hours away and still had not cleared Russian Customs. REM had no choice but to cancel that night’s show—something they haven’t done in more than 10 years. We were all so bummed because for many of us (Michael included), it was our first trip to Russia. So just an hour after getting off the busses, we had to get back on to catch up with the gear and move onto our next show in Finland. We departed around 4pm that day, and I took photos from inside the bus as we were leaving Russia. Being January, the sky was a dark-blue dusk—beautiful. You can see a small light reflection in this picture from the bus’s window; it almost looks like a big white dust spot, and for some reason that reflection is very important to me. I guess it represents that barrier between me and getting to experience Russia. My time in the country was so fleeting, but it gave me the gift of seeing and recording that image. And I am grateful because it is one of the most beautiful photos I took from all our touring.