Photographer Selling Copyright to Nirvana’s First Major Magazine Cover Shoot

Want to own a piece of music photography history? A rare opportunity has popped up. Photographer Greg Watermann is currently selling the entire photo shoot he did with Nirvana for their first major magazine cover, and the auction includes copyright and all.

“I photographed Nirvana for their first major magazine cover — SPIN January 1992,” Watermann tells PetaPixel. “Grunge was just starting to come into the mainstream and this was my first assignment shooting a Seattle band.”

Watermann’s career has spanned decades, but he still considers this particular photo shoot with Nirvana to be his most difficult gig.

“Kurt really didn’t want to be famous, he hated all the media attention they were getting already, and subsequently was not a very cooperative subject,” the photographer says. “So it was a challenge to shoot them for something as important as a national magazine.

“I used all my tricks to get some expressions and interesting poses, some worked some did not. At one point I made a suggestion for Kurt to fold his arms and lean on Dave. His response was adamant, ‘F**k that idea, man. Metallica folds their arms. I’m not folding my arms.’ He preferred the hands-in-pockets stance.”

Sides from the cover shoot.

After shooting the cover in the studio, the group went outside and Watermann continued photographing them as they loosened up.

A contact sheet of black-and-white photos shot.
A photo appearing inside the issue.

“The day got better as we took more photos and overall we had fun making some amazing images that are now part of the band’s early history,” Watermann says. “It’s still one of the best selling SPIN covers of all time.”

Three weeks after the issue hit newsstands, Nevermind hit the top of the Billboard album chart, taking the #1 spot from Michael Jackson’s Dangerous.

The success has allowed Watermann to profit from the cover photo over the years, including selling limited edition gallery prints to collectors for $1,000 each.

Watermann says he has decided to sell the shoot because of the economic devastation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I shoot live music, and music is gone,” he says. “More specifically, I’m a tour photographer. I travel around the world with my clients and document them performing every night…

“Because of the virus, big concerts were the first thing to be canceled this year and they aren’t coming back until next summer. Meaning I’ll have no real income for the next 12 months. So, I’m flipping an asset in order to keep my business running.”

The sale includes the Hasselblad 500 ELX camera used for the photo shoot, 34 original color slides, 72 original black-and-white negatives, signed contact sheets, various signed art prints, five copies of the Spin magazine issue, and the copyright registration docs, and a transfer of copyright document.

The auction contains the Hasselblad camera used to shoot the photos.

Everything is being auctioned over at Julien’s Auctions, which gives an estimated value of the lot of $10,000 to $20,000.