Photography duo Guzman talk previously unseen photos of Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and Frances Bean

To mark the 30th anniversary of Kurt Cobain‘s death, photography duo Guzman (aka husband and wife Constance Hansen and Russell Peacock) have spoken to NME about their new book of unseen images of the late Nirvana icon.

READ MORE: Every Nirvana song ranked in order of greatness

The book Family Values takes its name from an infamous Spin magazine cover with Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and their then-five-week-old daughter Frances Bean. Published in December 1992, it was been dubbed the ‘family values’ shoot because Kurt scrawled the phrase on Courtney’s belly.

The words had dual meaning. On one level, it was a reference to the Republican Party’s ‘family values’ drive to champion the so-called traditional family. On another, it was a response to a Vanity Fair article that had painted Cobain and Love’s drug use in such a bad light that Frances was briefly removed from their custody (they refuted the article’s depiction of them).

Of almost 100 images Guzman captured that day, only five were published in Spin. In 2021, though, they revisited the snaps for an exhibition and are now publishing the full set in a new book, Family Values: Kurt, Courtney & Frances Bean. To mark the 30th anniversary (April 5) of Kurt’s tragic death, the photographers recall meeting “a really beautiful family”.

NME: Hello Constance and Russell. Congratulations on this gorgeous book! It’s amazing that these photos are finally seeing the light of day…

Constance Hansen: “Yeah, we’re excited about it because they were in a box for a long time!”

When you initially exhibited them near your home in Massachusetts, the show was very well-received…

Russell Peacock: “We’re literally in the middle of nowhere here and a lot of people came from a long way away.”

Hansen: “They travelled from different states!”

Peacock: “And it’s a different generation of fans – generation Z, millennials.”

What were you looking to achieve when you arrived at Kurt and Courtney’s Hollywood home for the photoshoot?

Hansen: “Well, we weren’t quite sure what we were supposed to achieve. We had heard the backstory of what happened with [the Vanity Fair article] that caused them great pain, a lot of drama. We were delighted that they flew us to their house. We were like, ‘Oh, wow – this is going to be major’. On the way we were riffing like, ‘We should make them do chores and mow the lawn’. [Laughs]

“But when we got there, they were literally by themselves. There were no handlers, nothing. It was just straight-up their house and it was very authentic. Courtney opened the door and as soon as we saw the inside of the house – of course, being nosy photographers, we opened the refrigerator when she wasn’t looking – we realised: ‘There is nothing that is going to be housekeeping in this house!”

What did the Cobains keep in their fridge?

Hansen: “A gallon of eye wash.”

Tasty! Were you taken aback when you realised how intimate the situation would be?

Hansen: “No, not at all. We were delighted because there was a lot of love in the room.”

Peacock: “With them being ‘grunge’ – quote-unquote – we knew what their aesthetic was. We shot a lot of hip-hop artists around that time and it comes with a 50-people entourage [of] handlers and managers. This was the complete opposite.”

Hansen: “Obviously they were artists because there was a lot of art. They had a room that was dedicated to paint and drawings. There was a cardboard box of doll heads. It was very refreshing.”

You were led upstairs to meet Kurt, who was in bed in a dressing gown. What was he like?

Peacock: “He was very…”

Hansen: “…Gentle, quiet, soft…”

Peacock: “… Circumspect.”

Hansen: “He was attentive, though. He was there.”

Peacock: “He just seemed really mellow and chill and kind of let Courtney take charge… I think he had a hard time being photographed. The difference between the two of them [was that] Courtney loves being photographed. She’s like a photographer’s dream because she’ll go there and beyond. Kurt was almost the opposite.”

Hansen: “But he was very open that day. He was just a person.”

How did the Cobains compare to other celebrities you’ve snapped at the height of their fame?

Hansen: “It was just like going to your friend’s house. They’re directional – they know what they want. Courtney is smart. She’s just brilliant. Brilliant. I just admire her so much as a woman. It’s hard for women like that… She’s heroic.”

Do you think the fact you’re a husband-and-wife team helped the dynamic that day?

Hansen: “Well, Frances was five weeks old and we had a two-year-old, so we understood that whole protective vibe. I mean, a kid is a great prop! They just lit up. When Frances was in Kurt’s arms, he was in love. He just loved her, loved her, loved her. He was just in his own world.”

Peacock: “We have to credit Frances Bean with creating the vibe.”

After the Vanity Fair article, Kurt and Courtney understandably felt the world was against them… 

Hansen: “That [feature] was a hit-job, in my opinion. Kurt’s brilliant. He’s ironic, he’s funny – he’s subtle-funny and he puts things together. When we turned around – and no-one asked him to do this – he was vandalising Courtney’s belly [with the ‘family values’ slogan]. It was just making sure we took pictures – because you could stand there and gape.”

Peacock: “After the Vanity Fair article came out, this was the equivalent of going on Oprah. When something really bad happens to you, you go on Oprah and try to fix it. So it was kind of the grunge equivalent… In the back of his mind, Kurt probably said: ‘I know I’m supposed to look responsible and like a loving family, but fuck it – I’m not gonna sell out…’”

Hansen: ‘… Because I have my family values.’ And it definitely showed that they loved [each other]. It was a really beautiful family… Courtney is a brave soul. She was five weeks after giving birth!”

Kurt had some unusual trinkets in the house. What were you seeing and what was it telling you?

Hansen: “After the fact, it was interesting. We were just taking pictures, like: ‘Oh, here’s the ‘Nevermind’ Platinum award, here’s some toys’. [Later] we’re looking at them and he had collaged the award with [stomach medication] because he had terrible problems with his stomach, which really caused him a great deal of agony. There was a set of Chipmunks: a tall guitarist, a drummer and in the middle… we can only think that Kurt was channelling [that character] and he was facing the wall.” These were little hints of how he was thinking.”

Peacock: “Time informs you about the importance of things. We didn’t know he was going to die two years later. We knew he was a big rockstar, but we didn’t know he would transcend generations. He really is on a whole other level and different generations are listening to his music. So you look at all those pictures of stuff in the room and it tells a story. Maybe when you first are there, you’re not fully aware of it.”

Hansen: “They were young and this nonsense was going on. It was cruel! The media world is terribly cruel.”

Peacock: “[Kurt] had his own mental issues and when someone’s going through that and they’re under a microscope, it’s brutal.”

Thankfully you helped the Cobains tell their own story. How are these photos relevant now?

Peacock: “They’re relevant now because we haven’t got past that family values stuff. Look at what’s happening in the United States! It’s a nightmare. It’s crazy bad. So it’s like: ‘Take your values! These are our family values!’”

Family Values: Kurt, Courtney & Frances Bean will be published via powerHouse Books on June 4.

The post Photography duo Guzman talk previously unseen photos of Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and Frances Bean appeared first on NME.

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