As crazy as it sounds to those of us who remember it, today is the 18th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s passing. Jesse Frohman was one of the last photographers to capture the Nirvana frontman, and his iconic images are currently on view at the Morrison Gallery in SoHo. We spoke with Frohman about the shoot and the hazards of celebrity portraiture.
The Standard: Nirvana was at the height of their fame when this shoot took place. Do you remember any details from that day?
Jesse Frohman: I never considered this shoot to be any more important or valuable than any other famous person that I’d photographed, but I remember it very well—from Kurt asking me for a bucket to puke in, to discussing the “In Utero” album. Kurt was quiet, but very expressive with his mannerisms.
Do you remember what you were doing on April 5, 1994, when the news broke?
I was working in my office and almost immediately started getting calls from newspapers and magazines requesting to see the shoot since it was one of the last shoots of his life. It’s always shocking to hear about a death like that.
Who was your greatest influence as a photographer?
Definitely Irving Penn, since I worked for him for four years. I also have a sweet spot for Dick Avedon.
You’ve shot quite a few legends in your time. Are there other iconic shoots you hold dear? Any interesting stories?
Meeting and shooting James Brown tops the list, but it’s a juicy story, and a long one, so I’ll have to tell you over a drink sometime. Woody Allen was as neurotic and funny as he appears in his movies. And I had to throw Dee Dee Ramone out of my house after he threatened me with the brass knuckles he had just given me as a gift. Fortunately, that was by far the craziest moment of my career.
What’s your favorite Nirvana song?
The whole Nevermind album. I remember when that CD came out, it was such an event—definitely one of the best records of its time. But if I had to choose one song, it’s, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
What other genres of photography do you like?
I shoot portraits of people from all walks of life, but I also enjoy shooting still-life and landscapes, which have a completely different feel, and are a nice change of pace.
It’s been almost twenty years since you took these photos. Have they gained new significance for you?
Of course it’s very exciting to share the results of such a unique shoot. It was certainly interesting to look over the film and contact sheets after all these years. I’ve even received a call from my assistant on that shoot and it was fun to reminisce with him since no one else has that shared memory.