Michael Lavine, a famous advertising photographer, had the privilege of following Nirvana throughout various moments in their career, from their early months as a band, to their worldwide success. As a friend of Cobain’s, Lavine shared his joy at meeting his wife, Courtney Love, and witnessed his ascent to become a symbol of the era. His close access to Cobain gave him a unique perspective on the group and led to producing an extraordinary visual record. His works will be exhibited at Palazzo Medici Riccardi from March 7 to June 14 alongside those by Charles Peterson, a renowned photographer who shot Nirvana’s early days, as well as concerts and the grunge scene in Seattle. The exhibition captures the spirit of a unique musical revolution and is part of a new project by the organizers OEO Firenze Art and Le Nozze di Figaro srl to document the phenomena of pop culture, following on from the success of the Bowie by Sukita exhibition last year. Here, The Florentine speaks to Lavine about his experience trailing Nirvana and being up close with a music legend.
TF: Why does Kurt Cobain still have resonance today?
ML: I believe it depends on his pure authenticity, even more so than his music. In the 1990s, the general public was undoubtedly looking for a new message and the self-empowerment that Kurt embodied hit the mark. Today in the 21st century, especially at the beginning of this new decade, that need has not been met yet.
TF: What were you aiming to communicate in your photographs?
ML: I tried to capture the meaning of those days with my photographs, but also the man behind what had become an international sensation. Working with the band in studio gave me the advantage of a more direct communication.
TF: What drew you to photographing Cobain and documenting the Grunge revolution?
ML: The first time I photographed Nirvana was in New York. They happened to be in town and they came to my studio. We immediately got closer, as was typical of the times, but above all we bonded over our mutual passion for Iggy Pop. I used to work for Sub Pop at the time, and every time there was one of their bands in town they sent them to my studio for me to do a shoot. On that occasion I photographed them all together and I didn't take individual shots, something I still regret to this day.
TF: What did you learn about him in your time photographing him?
ML: I learned that Kurt was always late, always asleep somewhere! Jokes aside, the thing that struck me most about him was his need to rebel against the music work establishment, large corporations and generally rampant male chauvinism. At the time it was something totally new.
TF: What can you tell us about the context that surrounds these photographs?
ML: Nirvana didn’t come out of the blue and although they have become a symbol for Grunge music, there were many other equally important bands around them. In my time in Seattle, and in the years later too, I attended many gigs of bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Mudhoney. I also photographed many of these bands and some of these photos of mine are part of the exhibit in Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
TF: Is there any work in particular that stands out for you?
ML: It is hard to choose a single shot.
I worked with Nirvana in three different periods of their career and each time my role as a photographer was to do them justice visually. I never wanted to dress them up or create elaborate and fake sets. Leaving the band free to be was my act of rebellion and the part of my work that I am most proud of.
Peterson - Lavine. Come as you are: Kurt Cobain and the Grunge Revolution
Palazzo Medici Riccardi, via Cavour 1, March 7-June 14
See www.palazzomediciriccardi.it for opening times.
The exhibition, curated by Ono Arte Contemporanea is organized and promoted by OEO FIRENZE ART and LE NOZZE DI FIGARO srl in collaboration with MUS.E. With the patronage of the Metropolitan City of Florence and the Municipality of Florence.