Every picture tells a story, but some photos on display in Athens sing their fascinating tales.
Art Rocks Athens, an organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating the art that surrounded Athens’ music boom of the 1970s and ’80s, kicked off its efforts last year with shows spotlighting paintings, drawings, artifacts and graphics.
While the music created in Athens 1975-1985 has been well-documented and celebrated around the world, Art Rocks Athens’ efforts are the first full-scale attempt to preserve and spotlight the contributions of the city’s artists and filmmakers of the period.
This year, the group has turned its attention to photographs documenting the scene surrounding the B-52’s, R.E.M., Pylon and many more beloved and influential bands and musicians. “I’ll Be Your Mirror: Images From the Athens Scene, 1975-1985,” on exhibit in the former Half Moon Outfitters space on Milledge Avenue, offers a window into a creative and fondly remembered time in the city’s history, as seen through the eyes of its photographers.
One of those photographers, Sandra-Lee Phipps, is now a professor at SCAD Atlanta and served as curator for the show. Phipps has had a long and distinguished career as a photojournalist (for the Village Voice, among others) and as a fine-art photographer, but it’s her iconic photos of R.E.M. in the early years that are most recognized by the general public. If you own a copy of the band’s full-length debut album, “Murmur,” you have photos by Phipps in your home right now.
What will you see at the show? Lots of musicians — some of whom you’ll know and some you won’t.
“There are things that people have seen and things that people have never seen before,” Phipps said. “Some historic images. Photos from Keith Bennett’s private collection. Jim Herbert’s film stills. Michael Stipe made two very large pieces just for the show that we pasted on the wall.”
There are familiar photos and images, too, including those famous “Murmur” shots.
“The back cover (of the train trestle) is in the show and the portraits that I did for the back cover,” Phipps said.
That brings up a question. Who shot the front cover?
“I went out and helped make it happen. I don’t know that that image is attributed to anyone,” Phipps said. “The kudzu, that’s a mystery. I think Michael shot that and I think he just recently found the actual print, and that’s been missing for a while.
“After he came up with the kudzu picture that he loved, we needed something for the back cover that was equally as atmospheric and moody, but not about anything,” Phipps recalled. “That’s how the train trestle photo came to be. Oddly enough, I have no idea where that train trestle is and I’ve never been back to see it since I took that picture. I don’t even remember how I got there.”
It isn’t all about the music, though. After all, this is about art — and about Athens.
Rick Hawkins, well-known around Athens as Rick the Printer, has his own room downstairs at the exhibition. At the show’s opening party, he even set up his coffee shop. His Koffee Klub was the site of R.E.M.’s second gig.
“You get a real feeling for the Athens of the time,” Phipps said of Hawkins’ work. “It feels like a little time piece. He’s photographed everything in Athens, forever. And he’s a character.”
Nudity is part of the mix, too, including in the works contributed by Stipe. One is a nude of Stipe taken by Jeremy Ayers, accompanied by a photo of Ayers taken by Stipe.
“There was a lot of that at the time,” Phipps said. “People were much freer. The kids that I’m dealing with now are not that free with themselves.”