And why Elden Spencer, the child pictured, sued the group
The ‘Nevermind’ album by ’90s band Nirvana has one of the most iconic covers of all time, featuring a little boy in his’ birthday suit’ swimming for dollar bait. This best-selling record, which produced classic songs such as “Smells Like Teen Spirits”, “Come As You Are” and “Lithium”, is now under fire from critics.
Spencer Elden, the baby pictured, is now 30 years old and he has filed a federal lawsuit against the estate of Nirvana band members, late singer Kurt Cobain, drummer David Ghrol and bassist Krist Novoselic, among others who were involved. He claimed that they, along with the company Geffen Records which released the album in 1991, took advantage of his nude photos and broke criminal child pornography laws.
Elden claims his parents, who received $ 200 after the shoot, were never properly compensated for the photography and never signed permission to use his image in the cover.
Now he’s asking for $ 150,000 or £ 7.5million from each of the 15 people and businesses listed in the complaint, including the photographer behind the iconic photo, Kirk Weddle, who happens to be friends with Elden’s parents. .
Kirk was commissioned by Geffen’s art to do the filming after he refused to get an image of a baby swimmer that will cost them $ 7,500 a year to use it.
The original idea for the cover was the Underwater Birth designed by the late Kurt as he watched the Underwater Birth on TV with David. But later, he decided to change him into a baby swimmer when Geffen’s art director Robert Fisher deemed him too graphic.
Underwater photographer Kirk never had a baby as a subject before said image. In an interview with The Guardian in 2019, he said he was paid $ 1,000 for the entire photoshoot, including the gears, and for another diver.
Since it was “old-fashioned” photography, they first practiced with a doll before doing the actual shoot with the then four-month-old Elden. It took Kirk an hour to get into place and five minutes to shoot about 25 frames, before he knew he had the photo of Spencer who can hold his breath long enough underwater.
But doubtful of the photos since they show Elden’s private parts, he took half a dozen more photos of baby girls. The label, however, favored Elden photography for the album, which sold 30 million copies. Meanwhile, the dollar bill was taken separately by “a guy in New York” and simply placed together in the process.
In a 2015 interview with The Guardian, however, Elden said the coverage was about “letting go of innocence and everyone looking for money faster and faster.” He also mentioned that “it’s always been a positive thing” and opened doors for him.
Fast forward to this point, Elden also revealed to his paralegal that he had suffered “permanent harm,” including emotional distress and a “loss of life from the ability to earn an income”, as a result of his association with the album.
Further, according to the lawsuit, “the defendant knowingly produced, possessed and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so.”
For some Filipino Gen X Nirvana fans, the album art was never considered a form of child pornography. Some, however, consider it a form of exploitation. Others saw it as an art form, like Deroll Bargas who interprets it as “showing innocence but linked to materialistic things as becoming bait to lose it”.
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