Losing grunge rock god Kurt Cobain in his prime was a watershed moment for a generation. Now, nearly eighteen years after his death by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in his palatial Seattle home, photographs of Nirvana’s singer/songwriter are on view at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in SoHo.
The intimate images, captured just months before Cobain’s death, show his disheveled appearance and unwillingness to share despite his fame and notoriety, perhaps the very stresses that contributed to his troubled state of mind. Cobain can be seen behind oversized sunglasses that photographer Jesse Frohman says he refused to remove, adding further fuel to the fire that he was thick in the clutches of a drug obsession that later likely influenced his death.
Frohman, practically green as a photographer at the time of the shoot — he later went on to apprentice for world-renowned portrait photographer Irving Penn before becoming a sought-after celebrity portraitist himself — seemed unable to crack Cobain’s façade, though the photographs did not suffer in translation. What remains are a series of candid portraits taken in succession that remind us now of the sensitive soul behind the Fender guitar, an individual we now know was shrouded in a veil of pain from chronically poor health, a failed relationship, drug addiction, and hopelessness that November day in 1993 and throughout the five months that followed until his untimely death.
As with any such memorable sessions, the Frohman portraits remain some of the most provocative images taken of Cobain. They speak directly to his inability to embrace or escape the huge audiences that had come to, in his own mind, devour him whole. It’s as if he was flirting with the idea of fame while enjoying its exploits and mocking us in the process. Unfortunately we now know the truth: Our beloved and iconic god of grunge was literally sweating out his time in the spotlight and looking for a safety net. The overwhelming sadness of these images is that he never found one.
Frohman’s collection of photographs is on view until April 23, but those and others like them can always be seen at the Morrison Hotel Gallery (https://www.morrisonhotelgallery.com/), which specifically handles photographs of musicians.