PICTURE GALLERY: Memory of Kurt Cobain lives on in new Nirvana exhibition
PUBLISHED: 14:59 03 April 2014 | UPDATED: 15:25 03 April 2014
This Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain. As a scene that lived and died by the narrative of one band more than any other, this tragic event arguably also signalled the end of grunge and the inclusive, outsider community it cultivated.
To commemorate the game-changing role Nirvana played in the early 90s alternative music scene, Proud Galleries has just launched Experiencing Nirvana – a new exhibition of photos that follow the band from their earliest, Bleach-era days to the latter stages of their third, dark masterpiece In Utero.
Comprised of pictures from celebrity photographer Steve Double and Charles Peterson, who is viewed by many as Grunge’s most prominent photographer, it holds up a mirror to the raw, unbridled energy Nirvana displayed in their live shows and the goofy, carefree spontaneity they largely showed off it.
While those coming to the exhibition will look back on one of the greatest bands of all time, Nirvana’s early years certainly didn’t hint at the heights of landmark record Nevermind.
“I didn’t photograph their first gig, because I just didn’t think they were that good,” Peterson admits. “I was working for Sub Pop at the time – I guess you could say as their in-house photographer – and I was getting paid without really getting paid. When I first saw Nirvana, I kind of thought, man, you really want to sign these guys?”
Double tells a similar story. Although he did capture the band on their first European tour, which culminated in the 1989 LameFest UK show at London’s Astoria, it was more by luck than judgement.
“Mudhoney were the headline act. Nirvana were bottom of the bill and started about 10 minutes after the doors had opened.
“It was by pure chance that I decided to photograph them, as no-one else was even bothering.
“At the end of their show, Kurt threw his guitar towards Krist (Noveselic) who was holding his bass like a baseball bat. The next thing you saw was the remains of Kurt’s guitar flying through the air and, in the photo, you can see Bruce Pavitt (co-founder of Sub Pop) just watching on from the side.”
Both Peterson and Double began to photograph the band around the release of their first LP, Bleach. Immediately clear from these pictures is the grunge aesthetic, all ripped jeans and flannel shirts.
Having grown up in Seattle, where he still lives today with his family, Peterson was very much part of its 90s music scene and, though he and Kurt were in “different circles”, they maintained a mutual respect in their early years through a shared love of punk.
“To me, the whole aesthetic was just punk with long hair. I think we were aware there was a look, but it came about more through thinking, ‘hey, it’s cold here and cardigans are pretty comfortable’.
As Nirvana exploded into public consciousness, the Sub Pop scene of about 100 people were uncomfortably thrust into the limelight. While Kurt notoriously struggled with fame, Double found Noveselic and Dave Grohl – who has gone on to international success as the front man of Foo Fighters – to be good company.
While he would often talk of politics and art with the latter, Grohl even then was living up to his nice guy reputation.
“He’s often referred to as the nicest, loveliest guy in rock and it’s absolutely true.
“I remember once at an NME event, I met this cynical old hack who said Dave was lucky he was able to ride on Kurt’s coat-tails. He probably wouldn’t say the same thing nowadays would he?”
By the time it came to the Madrid leg of the band’s In Utero tour however, the photographer realised things were beginning to go wrong. “It was so different to the time before. Courtney was there, heavily pregnant and trying to control everything, and the tension was so extreme and obvious.
“Kurt just thought, ‘this isn’t what I want to do’ – he actually told me that. He felt part of that rock and roll machine and while many people have been there and dealt with it before, he just couldn’t.”
The tragic suicide that followed cast a shadow over the musical world, but nonetheless, Experiencing Nirvana will be a fitting tribute to the joy Cobain brought to millions before he died.
“There was a certain charisma to Nirvana,” says Peterson. “It’s hard to quantify, but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi and that’s why people really dig the photos. I’ve been thinking about it recently, about those live photos, and you can sense a sort of harmonic release where Kurt and the audience come together as one.”
Experiencing Nirvana is at Camden’s Proud Gallery until May 11. Visit proudonline.co.uk.
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