Kurt Cobain by Jesse Frohman [Interview]: The Cannon Canon

Kurt Cobain and his band Nirvana redefined the fashion and sound of the nineties, leaving an indelible mark on the face of fashion and rock. An exhibit by photographer Jesse Frohman featuring iconic photos of Kurt Cobain took place at the Morrison Hotel in NYC.

Kurt Cobain by Jesse Frohman

"Jesse Frohman is a consummate professional," legendary photographer Roxanne Lowit told me at the exhibit, "Always wanting to get the best shot he can on any shoot he is on. I doubt he ever was more successful than that fateful day in 1993 when he shot Kurt Cobain's portrait. Not only was he able to capture countless amazing shots of the notoriously shy singer, the shots still have immense impact and style almost 20 years later. But what is even more impressive is that he captures a side of Cobain that few have rarely seen, a playful quirky side and not the brooding tortured artist most remember him as. I have a print from this session on my wall and I have for years. I am sure it will hang there forever."

I had a chance to catch up with the photographer himself while sipping some Sailor Jerry Drinks.

Cannon: Did you know at the time that Kurt was changing the face of fashion?

Jesse Frohman: Yes of course, along with bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Mudhoney.  There were fashion stories already published and Marc Jacobs had his famous Grunge show for Perry Ellis by the time I photographed Kurt. 

C: And he would be the poster boy for grunge?

JF: He is now the most famous representative of the grunge movement, but Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, and others were as much an influence at that time.

C: Describe the shoot for us.

JF: It was a crazy quick shoot that at first seemed like a disaster when we were told by Nirvana's manager that a scheduled 5 hour shoot was going to be reduced to a 30 minute shoot. But it all turned out to be a blessing in disguise because there were no original plans to shoot in a studio and I wouldn't have the unique pictures that I have now.

C: How was Kurt to deal with? 

JF: I didn't know what to expect but when we began shooting, I found him very accessible to photograph. He was friendly and we chatted for a minute but I was on the clock and had to concentrate on getting my cover story done, so we didn't hang out for a long time.

C: Did you shoot backstage? 

JF: I actually shot on stage and I love the images I got of Kurt with his NIXON guitar — a real time warp.

C: I love how personal these images are and how it feels like we were there with you on the shoot.

JF: That's wonderful to hear. Every photographer would ultimately like his/her picture of someone to be the definitive portrait of that person. I'm not sure mine are but I do think I was able to get very intimate and candid pictures in such a formal setting. I really can't ask for more from a shoot.

C: I love the sunglasses…did Kurt bring them?

JF: Yes. He actually had an armful of layers of clothes with him including the air force hat and leopard coat. I took one look at him and realized I was going to be able to make some interesting pictures. The rapport between me and Kurt just sealed the deal to make the shoot a great success.

C: The prints were gorgeous! How did you print them?

JF: Thanks. The prints are digital archival pigment prints. I can get wonderful black and whites as well as intense pinks without having to change processes.

C: Morrison Hotel Gallery always has the best images of rockers…is this your first exhibit with them?

JF: Yes. I've always considered myself to be a special member of the gallery because although I have photographed many rockers, I shoot subjects from many other walks of life as well and never considered myself to be a music photographer like all their other photographers. I was honored to be asked to do a show and to be included with such legendary photographers who have shot many of my musical heroes.

C: When did you know you wanted to be a photographer? 

JF: The day I met the great Irving Penn who became my mentor.

C: Who is your favorite photographer and why?

JF: I have a few faves. Certainly Penn, but my work is more like Richard Avedon whom I had the pleasure to meet several times. I also love Gary Winogrand and William Eggleston whose work couldn't be more different than mine but there is so much poetry in their pictures that I never get tired of looking at them.

C: Advice for the younglings?

JF: Stick to one thing that you love the most and see it through with as much passion as you can.  You will always be rewarded when you combine passion with effort and love.