My High School Zeitgeist


I was a sophomore in high school when Kurt Cobain died. It seemed like his death was all anyone was talking about for years. Young kids felt a strong connection with Kurt because he was so much more down to earth, average, and relatable than the rock stars we were used to seeing. Nirvana played a very influential role in my high school years because their music brought forth a dramatic transition from the very artificial glam-rock of the 80’s into a more down to earth, sensitive, and “grungy” image. When Nirvana became popular, kids started dressing differently and doing their hair differently (or not doing their hair at all for that matter), and all of a sudden it was cool to look like you just rolled out of bed. I don’t think I knew anyone who did not own a pair of Berkinstock sandals and ripped up jeans. All the guys grew their hair out long and wore flannel shirts.
When I first saw this picture all of these memories were brought back into my mind. I had this same picture taped on the cover of my 10th grade English book. There is so much pain in his eyes. Looking at it everyday before I opened my book made me appreciate the life that I had and it made me think of others who were not as fortunate. It encouraged me to be nice to others. When I look at this picture now I still see a person who is in a lot of emotional pain. I am drawn to his eyes over and over again.  While I find the mood of this picture to be very sad and depressing, I also feel a strong sense of encouragement to be a better person. Not because I feel like he is a bad person but because I feel like I would never want to be the cause of so much pain.
Historically, there is no specific style that this picture imitates, at least not that I know of. You can assume it was taken sometime in the early 90’s, shortly before his death because his hair is long and obviously because he is still alive. Professional photographers know that extreme close-ups provoke a stronger emotional connection between the photographed and the viewer because they have seen this type of photography in the past and so, this shot was done this way to evoke such feelings. This photo was probably released after his death because it emulates the feeling of the time. His death really upset a lot of people because they felt like they knew him and because they idolized him. This extreme close-up reaffirms that relationship people felt like they had with him because he is looking directly at you, almost as if he is asking you for help or a shoulder to lean on.
This picture definitely appears to be of professional quality rather than just a quick snap-shot mostly because of the lighting. The key light is coming in from the left with a low intensity fill light on the right. These light sources have created some contrast in his face. There is moderate fall off because most of the details on the right side of the image are not lost, just darker. It is hard to determine what the other light sources are (if any) because it is such an extreme close-up. The framing is also done in a professional manner. His neck and the whole bottom portion of his face are left in the photo while the top of his head is left out.
I do not see anything unethical about this picture. It is a pleasant image to look at. There are not any symbols or messages in this picture that are offensive. It appears that he was well aware that his picture was being taken so I don’t think it is unethical to display it. Culturally, this picture represents an artist who touched the lives of many young people. On the same note, it also represents someone who chose to take his own life. I remember parents being really worried about their children’s emotional state during this time because they believed that their Nirvana worshiping kids might find following in Kurt’s footsteps to be a good idea. A lot of the kids in my high school were encouraged to seek counseling after Cobain’s suicide. So to some, this photo might be a representation of suicide, self-pity, and restlessness. It worried adults to see their students and children so obsessed with a celebrity who could not come to grips with life. But, for most of the kids, we were able to become more emotionally in-tune with ourselves through him and not necessarily in a negative way. It taught us how to come together and help people who were struggling emotionally so that they would NOT follow in his footsteps. Critically thinking, I have always felt a strong connection to this photo. I spent a lot of time looking at it when I was in high school and I still have the same feelings when I look at it today. In fact, looking at it again has reaffirmed the message that I took from it as a teenager. Speaking of the death of Kurt Cobain has almost become cliche because it was such a big deal for so long that people are sick of hearing about it. Life is so different now, with school shootings happening all the time the sensitivity to other people’s emotional state hits a little closer to home.   


3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    adriennerhea said,

    I like that you chose this picture Shari. My older sister loved Nirvana and I’ll never forgot how upset she was with Kurt Cobain’s death. I was pretty young, and I still remember the devistation in teenagers at that time.

    The extreme close up gives a more emotional attachment. I totally agree with you on the photo being released after his death, because of the emotional attachment we get from the photo. His death worried many adults. They feared their children would try to follow in his footsteps. Great job Shari!

  2. 2

    Lori Hyne said,

    I really like the photo you chose. Wow! It is really dramatic and very intense. I also enjoyed hearing your personal attachment to it. I would have a different personal opinion about it and that’s what makes this photo interesting. You can look at it in so many ways. I like how you describe how it makes you appreciate your life. I think this statement explains the intensity that is shown through this photo.

  3. 3

    Kimberly Bakotich said,

    I think this picture beautifully represents Arabic women in a more natural state. Illustrating the women as socializing in everyday activities but also representing their cultural norms. It is a fantastic photo that makes a direct, impacting statement.

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