March 25th 2014
June 21st 2014
Opening on Saturday 22nd March 2014 from 6pm to 9pm
To be honest, it might long have been considered a dubious privilege to have had Kurt Cobain in the sightline for what was to be the Nirvana singer’s last photo-shoot. Or “The Last Shooting” for those with a taste for word-play or amusing correspondence. This privilege belonged to Youri Lenquette, one evening of February 1994, and it was a privilege that was as unexpected as it was unhoped-for.
A privilege, in that Cobain was the very embodiment of those fallen angels long exclusive to the world of Rock, one of those creatures whose trajectory was as brief as it was brilliant, of those beings so out of step with the real world that we almost end up by lending them an origin other than that of the common of mortals, far-off, enigmatic, almost alien. In two years, Youri, then a reporter for the monthly Best, managed to create a bond with this young and particularly uneasy rock star who success and drugs had driven to shut himself up in an ivory tower of paranoia. Which says much about the level of trust and empathy that the photographer managed to create with the singer, and more generally about the close ties he entertained with the usually impenetrable fauna of the music world.
If privilege it was, it long left a strange taste in its beneficiary’s mouth, for this famous session, whose main accessory is a 22 long rifle revolver, preceded by just a few weeks the musician’s death, death self-administered with the help of a similar weapon. Angels have always, along with the perspective of their own splendor, also been privy to that of their own demise. Such that inevitably this session became endowed with another dimension, that of a self-destruction announced. The staging itself, Cobain’s idea, engendered such suppositions and conjectures as to place the photographer in a sometimes-delicate situation.
If twenty years have passed since Cobain’s suicide, this last photo-session has lost nothing of its somewhat painful mystery. It continues to leave us poised on the edge of a precipice.
Shown for the first time in its entirety, including contact sheets and previously unseen shots, “The Last Shooting” fascinates as much as it interrogates. It captures a brief instant, curious because almost playful, of a story that ends badly. It’s an exceptional document that time has endowed with a meaning in which the absurd struggles with the heroic. And finally, it is the very last appearance of a blond and cursed angel before his ultimate flight.
Francis Dordor: When and in what circumstances did you meet Kurt Cobain and Nirvana for the first time?
Youri Lenquette: It was at the Transmusicales in Rennes in December 1991. I had come to make contact with the group in view of doing a reportage on their Australian tour in February 1992.
F.D: What memories do you have of this tour?
Y.L: Memories of a group that hated having their photograph taken! Kurt in particular! They dragged me around all over the country to finally allow me ten minutes just before getting on their flight back. In the end, I got what I could have got anywhere. I was supposed to be there to do the cover reportage for a magazine (Best)...if not, apart from the photographic aspect, Kurt and I got along well. I remember a night when I was listening to cassettes of punk groups from the 60s in my hotel room. He came to knock on my door. We talked about music. Drugs too. He left me the impression of a young man who was destabilized by success and who was looking for advice from an elder; I was 35, he was 25.
F.D: Did you stay in contact after that?
Y.L: We saw each other again in Paris at the end of ‘92. He came to my place after the Nirvana concert at the Zenith. Then I went to Seattle in September ‘93 for the release of the album In Utero.
F.D: What impressions did you have of Kurt?
Y.L: Those of a scrawny and very touching guy who clearly had huge problems communicating with the outside world. Too huge, no doubt, when you find yourself designated spokesman for your generation, when you’ve had material problems all your life and from one day to the next you’re so rich you don’t even know how much you have in the bank. And when you’re struggling with serious drug problems. If he’d had the caliber of a Mick Jagger, he could have overcome it. But Kurt didn’t have Jagger’s cynicism. He had integrity. He believed what he sung and he wouldn’t be untrue to himself for anything in the world.
F.D: How did the famous last session take place?
Y.L: When he was in Paris, he often came by my studio. He would stay there for part of the afternoon, half-prostrated on the couch, playing the guitar or looking through my record collection. It had become a habit. One day, he said that he’d like to do a session. Of course I didn’t believe him. Here was a guy who didn’t want to take photos when a magazine cover was at stake, and who was suddenly suggesting it of his own accord! For me, it was bullshit. So I told my assistant and make-up artist to go home. But at about 9:30 pm there was a phone-call from Kurt who announced that he was getting in a taxi and he was on his way. It was an uproar: I had no assistant and no make-up artist, not even the films I usually use. I called a friend to come and give me a hand. When the group arrived, Kurt had this gun in his hand. He also had blotches on his face. He decided to do his own make-up. But the result was so awful that I called a girl-friend to bring over her make-up bag...
F.D: The gun was his idea...
Y.L: Yes, he insisted on it. He initiated all the poses, the gun on the temple, in his mouth, pointed at the lens...
F.D: The other accessory was the tribal head-dress...
Y.L: It was a chieftain’s head-dress that I had just bought back from a trip to Zimbabwe and that Kurt set his sights on.
F.D: There are also photos of the whole group. And even with four members rather than three...
Y.L: Pat Smear, former guitarist of the Germs, had come to join the original trio for that European tour...
F.D: Did this session take on any particular significance after the announcement of his suicide in April 1994?
Y.L: I never believed in the thesis of a message he was trying to send. Posing with a gun is a classic in rock photos after all...Another reason that makes me think that it wasn’t premeditated, is that before leaving that evening, Kurt had been really taken with my photos of the Angkor temples, and we had promised we would go there together at the end of the tour...
F.D: How did you deal with what followed? Some of the photos are so explicit that they must have provoked a bidding war...
Y.L: I asked my agency at the time not to sell the most disturbing ones, the ones where he has the gun in his mouth or to his head. I had some very tempting propositions in financial terms. But they came from newspapers that never would have spoken about Nirvana under normal circumstances and that Kurt certainly wouldn’t have wanted to appear in. That didn’t stop the polemic. A few months earlier in Seattle, Kurt had already posed with a plastic pistol in his mouth and to his head. Those photos had been published long before he committed suicide…
F.D: In the light of a long career, what does this one session represent for you?
Y.L: Technically speaking it wasn’t my best shoot. But symbolically it’s important... I would say the exhibition title “The Last Shooting” is also valid for my own trajectory given that after Kurt’s death, I turned away from Rock to take an interest in other things. As if all the mythology surrounding the music had suddenly lost its attraction with his death.
From 25th March to 21st June 2014, Galerie ADDICT and Laetitia Hecht will present the photographs from this last session in the exhibition “KURT COBAIN - The Last Shooting”. A selection of the images will be available as traditional analog prints produced by Marc Upson, the printer who realized the proofs from these same photos in 1994... on identical paper, and using exactly the same process as that used at the time.