Arts & Entertainment
1 min

Backing up the backups

R Kelly Clipperton’s new joint photography show shines a spotlight on backup singers

Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me, by R Kelly Clipperton.

R Kelly Clipperton has long been fascinated by backup singers. As frontman of the band Kelly and the Kellygirls he’s tasted musical fame, but in his mind, backup singers belong to a sorority to which he’s never been granted membership, no matter how dearly he wants to belong.

So, when Clipperton was formulating a thesis for his next photography project, he turned to backup singers. What resulted is a series of photographs printed directly onto Plexiglass and metal. It will be shown alongside Troy Brooks’s Scratch, a series of oil paintings also focused on strong women.

Clipperton wanted to create interesting scenarios rather than photograph actual singers. Inspiration for one image came when he heard that his friend was pregnant. “I thought about how women in the ’60s were still expected to have a family and look after their kids even when they were working,” he says. “I asked her if she’d be open to me dressing her up as a backup singer and taking a photo where she’s backstage, about to go on, and she’s breastfeeding her kid. She said, ‘Sure, I’d love to.’”

In this way, his images not only convey his fascination with these musicians, but provide commentary on the lot of backups, mostly those working in the 1960s and ’70s.