Art & Design

The last shooting: It’s better to burn out than to fade away

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What happens when the front man of a famous rock band, who rarely agrees to be photographed, asks to be caught in a series of images that he himself has staged? What happens when those same images echo with the news of his death, which comes only a few weeks later?

It’s a February night in 1994. Photographer Youri Lenquette sits behind the lens in his studio in Paris. Kurt Cobain stands in front of him, holding a 22 caliber pistol, directing his own shoot. He focuses on the gun, sticking the barrel against his temple, in his mouth, aiming it at the camera. Just a few weeks later, he is found dead in his house in Seattle, with a shotgun under his chin and a Neil Young lyric as his final words. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”. The deafening sounds of Nirvana aren’t loud enough to overcome the sound of a trigger being pulled and the self-destructive front man lies dead, swimming in a pool of blood.

Was the shoot intended as a warning or was it just a coincidence? Lenquette, who at the time was a photographer for French magazine Best, met the band at the end of 1991, when he had to run with a story about the Australian leg of Nirvana’s tour and had since remained close with Cobain. He never believed that the shoot was Cobain’s way of getting a “final” message across. Posing with guns is after all a rock shoot staple. “Another reason why I don’t believe that it was premeditated, is that Kurt was really taken by my images of the Angkor temples and we had promised each other that we would go there together at the end of the tour”.

On April 8, 1994, Youri receives the news concerning the singer’s tragic end and asks his agency not to sell the photos in which Kurt has the revolver in his mouth and on his temple. «I had some very tempting financial propositions. But they came from newspapers that would have never spoken about Nirvana under normal circumstances and that Kurt certainly wouldn’t have wanted to appear in». Twenty years later, Addict Galerie in Paris, marks the anniversary of Cobain’s death, by hosting the shoot in its entirety, before the artist’s final fall from the ivory tower of paranoia, built by his troubled psychological background, his sudden publicity, his problematic marriage and frequent  use of drugs. The title itself, “The Last Shooting”, fascinates and shocks at the same time with its cynicism, since it visualizes a real rock tragedy that marked the end of Generation-X, but gave Nirvana’s music immortality. The exhibition includes contact sheets and previously unseen shots of Cobain and the whole group in large print.

On our way to the exhibition, the voice of Cobain echoes in our ears. «Come as you are, as you were. As I want you to be. As a friend, as an old enemy. Take your time. Hurry up. The choice is yours». To which we respond: Ok Kurt. Here we are now, entertain us.

Polina Paraskevopoulou

KURT COBAIN – The Last Shooting


Exhibition from March 25th to June 21st 2014

Addict Galerie- 16 Rue de Thorigny, 75003 Paris

Opening on Saturday, March 22nd 2014 from 6pm to 9pm
Exhibition from March 25th to June 21st 2014
Tuesday – Saturday 11:00 – 19:00