Ship In The Sand

music, fandom and photography

Kurt Cobain


image © 1994 Aline Giordano

text © 2011 Aline Giordano

Many professional photographers have tried to capture the genius, the madness or the despair of Cobain. They photographed him posing with a gun, in a wheelchair, with oversized fashionable sunglasses and, more humanely, just slouching on a sofa playing his Fender guitar. They also pictured him as a family man, with wife Courtney Love and baby girl Frances. I was fortunate to see Nirvana twice and be given permission to photograph the concert on both occasions, in 1991 during the French festival ‘Les Transmusicales de Rennes’, and at one of their last ever concerts, again in Rennes on 16 February 1994. I took many photographs of the band and Cobain in particular. To me they are archetypal examples of Bourdieu’s (1965) ordinary photographs – often clumsy, blurred, and without any artistic flair. They are like snapshots that I would be ashamed of sharing outside of the family circle. Imagine, if Kurt were your brother and you were looking at my photograph of him, you would laugh at him and comment on his dress-sense, his spots or wasted figure. And yet, you might say that this photograph shows the real Kurt Cobain. I have been hunted down by people who have looked at the one photograph of Cobain published on my website.  They wanted to know if I have other photographs, or information about Cobain, and whether I know of other recordings (visual or audio) of this particular show. Sometimes they just wanted to share their experience with someone like me who saw him in the flesh. My photograph of Cobain has little aesthetic value to the Nirvana fans, or me. It represents a part of their personal memory about Nirvana that they are trying to complete, either individually or as part of a community, if they belong to the various popular Nirvana fan websites. My fanzine photographs help fans fill out their personal narrative of popular music by offering an alternative image of the artist. This photograph not only acts as a document but also has the potential to link people who share common interest, or a common fantasy.


Bourdieu, P., 1965. Photography: A middle-brow art. Translated by Anon at Polity Press, 1990. Cambridge: Polity Press.

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