In 2007, while photographer/director Geoff Moore was in the midst of photographing some of Kurt Cobain's personal possessions for Charles R. Cross' book Cobain Unseen, everyone in the room was suddenly covered in goosebumps when a certain song loaded up on Moore's iPod.
“Nirvana's 'Pennyroyal Tea' came on and everyone on the set got chills and had a moment,” says Moore, over coffee at a cafe in Silver Lake, where the 45-year-old photographer lives. “It was trippy and awesome. I mean, I have a trillion songs on my iPod, and maybe one Nirvana album, and that song comes on at that time. That was really amazing.”
A self-described “introverted kid who loved to escape to the movies,” Moore, born and raised in Pasadena, began taking photographs when he was just 10 years old. At 17, after his parents kicked him out of the house due to what he wryly describes as “teenage angst,” Moore lived on a couch in Hollywood and immersed himself in the local music scene.
“I sucked at guitar, but I was good at taking pictures. I kind of came up in that era. I was the youngster amongst the Hollywood scene of the late '80s and that got me into the '90s music video world.” By his mid-twenties, Moore had been nominated for an array of MTV and Billboard awards for his videos with Jewel, Goo Goo Dolls and The Cardigans. His photography has been featured in GQ, Elle and Flaunt among others.
When he received a phone call from Ava Stander, who was working with the Cobain estate, asking if he'd like to photograph Cobain's belongings, Moore seized the chance immediately. “As a photographer and as an artist, what an opportunity. Photography is access and this was access to something iconic and special. There's obviously a presence and a mythology to everything about Kurt. He had such an impact.”
Moore saw Nirvana play live twice. “I was a huge Nirvana fan. I was more in the Jane's Addiction/Chili Peppers/Fishbone camp and I remember it was something special when Nirvana burst on the scene. They just exploded.”
Moore works mainly as a portrait photographer, so the Cobain assignment fell outside his typical repertoire. But the challenge inspired Moore to figure out how to present Cobain's items in a way that would be compelling.
“I mostly shoot people, so it was a bit different for me,” he says. “It was very different to approach a project of still-lifes and bring these objects to life because, really, it's just stuff. But it's Kurt Cobain's stuff and it's just special. It's priceless. I looked at it as a director, spreading out stuff to create scenes to put together iconic moments.”
From Cobain's black Converse sneaker, upon which he had scrawled 'Endorsement,' to his array of journals, cassettes and guitars, Moore combed through the storage space's contents, eventually choosing 40 items, all of which he photographed in one day. “It was fascinating going up there. It's a very high-security art storage unit down by Compton. The minute you turn on the street, there's literally a camera on you. The big art that comes to MOCA, LACMA, Getty … that is where all of Kurt's stuff is stored.”
Beyond the music-related artifacts, though not a part of Moore's shoot, being up close and personal with Cobain's paintings was enthralling to Moore. “Everyone knows Kurt Cobain the musician, but he’s an artist in all areas. He was the real deal.”
He was also especially charmed by one of Cobain's infamous heart-shaped boxes. “There was a whole array of heart-shaped boxes. It was kind of their thing, I guess. Kurt and Courtney would give them to each other. But there was one in particular. We opened it up and there were leaves and rosaries and a piece of the Roman Colosseum that Kurt had broken off and put it in there, and his hairs were in the box. It was quite a moment.”
Endorsement: The Unseen Kurt Cobain Photos opens tonight, Thursday, Feb. 11, and is on display through March 26 at KM Fine Arts Gallery, 814 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Grove. More info at www.kmfinearts.com. Cobain Unseen by Charles R. Cross, with photos by Geoff Moore, is available via Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.