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Here’s an image, courtesy of Boston photog legend JJ Gonson: Kurt Cobain whimsically gripping a carton of Quik, glancing up at the camera like a kid caught in the act. It’s an innocent side of Cobain that comes off as unexpected with the Nirvana frontman’s usual selection of imagery, including but not limited to flesh-stripped angels, fetus-strewn tree branches, and pistols adrift in pool water.
It’s also a touch of a divergence from Gonson’s more-known photo of Cobain, which depicts him clutching a crucifix in a tour van, crystalline blue eyes and matted flannel on full display.
The new mini-exhibit of portraits comes in quick succession after Gonson’s “Slam Dance”, which showcased the thrash-y exuberance of Boston mosh pits circa the 1980s earlier this summer.
For “Visages”, though, Gonson wanted to hone in on her older shots that had both fans and artists gazing back at her behind the lens.
“Every image in the show is a portrait — I had to define portrait, and in this case I decided it was not only a photo that showed the person’s personality, but also I wanted people to be looking at the camera,” Gonson tells Vanyaland. “In the case of the photo of Tanya Donelly, she is looking away but a woman behind her is staring directly at the camera.”
Amongst the obvious two Cobain photos and the aforementioned smirking snap of Belly bassist Donnelly, other characters pop out amongst the faces. Portland, Oregon bands Heatmiser and Hitting Birth ham it up for the camera, Boston’s old metal warriors Slaughter Shack vogue in a cramped bathroom, and Method of Destruction fans bare the whites of their eyes exorcism-style.
“Most of these photos were taken around all-ages hardcore punk rock shows in the mid to late-’80s, but Angelica (my friend who later became a punk, too) was taken in 1981 when I was in eighth grade of my friend at school, and the photos of Heatmiser and Nirvana were taken in the early to mid-1990s,” she adds. Only a handful of the shots came from outside of Massachusetts; “Heatmiser” was taken in Oregon and “Lisa” was snapped on a road trip in New York.
Gonson, who also owns and runs Somerville’s ONCE Ballroom & Lounge, says that the process of parsing through which portraits to choose from her catalog took roughly three months, even with input from other people.
“I hung ‘Slam Dance’ in Framingham at the Springdale Barrel Room and got to work editing [right after],” she notes. “I do this cool kind of crowdsourced editing thing where I do low-res scans of a lot of photos and send a drop box link so people can choose their favorites. Then I make a spreadsheet and choose the top images, until I have enough for the show. In this case 23, plus a few extra in case they look better. Scanning takes ages, as does dusting and printing.”
The images, however, last forever.
VISAGES DE PUNK :: Every Monday to Friday though October 22 at CambridgeSeven, Fifth Floor, 1050 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, MA :: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., all ages, no cover :: Facebook event page :: Featured image by JJ Gonson, published with permission