Photographer Geoff Moore reveals the stories behind his images of the musician's most valued possessions
Before the age of social media, celebrities were so much more mysterious; their lives the stuff of rumour and speculation, save for the odd paparazzi street snap. Nowadays, transversely, we are privy to so much information about pop culture icons – what they eat for breakfast, where they holiday, what their children look like and the insides of their walk-in wardrobes – that it is hard to imagine their being revered by future generations in the same way that their 20th-century forbearers are today.
Kurt Cobain is a prime example of a star whose evasive persona and early death at the age of 27 have turned him into an almost mythical figure of the modern age, which is why, when a friend approached him to photograph Cobain's possessions (hitherto hidden away in a storage unit for over ten years), LA-based photographer Geoff Moore jumped at the chance. "My friend worked for Cobain's estate and was putting together the book, Cobain Unseen. She reached out to see if I’d be interested and of course, with such a fascinating subject matter, I was intrigued," he tells us.
The resulting photographs – staged in a pleasingly crisp, minimalist manner – offer a deeply intimate peek into the private life of the thoughtful, vastly creative musician. They allow viewers to digest the contents at their leisure, quietly highlighting the unique details that betray their remarkable heritage: "I wanted to take these personal belongings and make them iconic," explains Moore. "I normally shoot people so it was interesting to photograph still lifes of these treasured items. It was important to me that I staged the shots against white, allowing no distractions to keep all the focus on the subject. Though in one shot this was just a pile of tapes; these were tapes that moved the world. And in these journals and old shoes and antique monkeys and heart shaped boxes were so many fascinating insights into Cobain. I wanted to honour that."
Here, to coincide with an exhibition of these poignant images at KM Fine Arts Los Angeles, the skilled self-trained photographer reveals the stories behind some of our favourite shots.
"This was perhaps one of the most heavy and personal shots. The legendary heart-shaped box [see above]. As we pulled it out of the storage wrapping, we found the dishevelled insides tossed about – dried leaves, rosaries, a stone, and Kurt’s actual hairs. This was obviously a precious belonging and I wanted to stage it in proper honour. I laid the rosaries across the stone, which is a piece of the Roman Colosseum that Kurt apparently took on his final trip to Italy. I wanted to give the viewers a very personal peek of the opened box and its contents. While we were shooting, Pennyroyal Tea came on the speakers – out of the zillion songs on the iPod. It was quite a moment for all of us on set."
"These are Kurt's scruffed up old Converse that he wrote 'endorsement' on [which is also the name of the show]. It really sums up his sense of humour and the irony of his wariness of corporate America and 'selling out.' He had coined himself a walking endorsement, but in the most punk rock sharpie, written on beat up Converse kind of way. I love that."
"Pulling out all these guitars, I could only imagine the sounds and songs written from them. Again, so much of Kurt’s sarcasm and humour comes out in the simplicity of an old 'Nixon Now' political sticker on this old acoustic guitar."
"This was another interesting insight into Kurt’s influences and artistic integrity. We opened this case, again all tossed about from being moved and stored, and staged this in a way that allowed a very personal look inside."
"All the writings – journals, and handwritten lyrics – were another amazing thing to pull out of the cases. I would have loved to spend weeks diving in, but we were on a quick shoot and had to keep things moving. My idea was to create one big, wide shot showing the old notepads and written pages, from funny lists like 'Top Ten Reasons Kurt Cobain is Gay' to the first handwritten lyrics for Dumb to endless rants and journal entries. Kurt wrote on everything."
"Apparently this was from Kurt and Courtney’s nightstand. The wedding ring as the guitar is played really caught my eye amongst this beautiful frame. Symbolically so much is said in this about true love... without the need for a smiling couple embracing in a nightstand photo."
"These are all the demos and last recordings of Kurt Cobain. This to me was a really artistic look at rock history in its rawest form… the demos that would lead to music being heard all around the world, which it will continue to be forever. It was the music that led to the legend. Again, we staged a big wide shot of all the works. I had this print developed over six-feet wide for the show and it's definitely one of my favorites."
"I was a bit fascinated by Kurt’s collections of old marionettes and monkeys. Because I normally shoot living rock stars and fashion models, I wanted to give 'life' to these still life photographs. And capture them as I would a living figure’s portrait."
"This image just sums it all up for me. A smashed guitar with his handwritten message: 'It’s so soothing to know that you’ll sue me at any chance you get. It’s so relaxing to know that you’ll axe me if I make one mistake. I miss the comfort in being sad. Being on edge. It’s so relieving to know that you’ll stab me straight in the back someday….' I mean, just amazing."
Geoff Moore: Endorsement – The Unseen Cobain Photos opens at KM Fine Arts Los Angeles on February 11 and runs until March 26.