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Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden: What It's Like To Photograph Grunge's Greatest

Legendary photographer Chris Cuffaro has taken some of the world's most iconic images of artists such as Nirvana, INXS, Alice In Chains and Chris Cornell.

You'd be hard pressed to find someone with as much dedication to their work and as illustrious a career as that of Los Angeles-based music photographer and self-confessed workaholic, Chris Cuffaro.

With nearly 40 years experience in photographing some of music's biggest names -- think George Michael, No Doubt, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, INXS, Alice In Chains and the late Chris Cornell -- Cuffaro has endless fascinating stories from behind the lens.

"I have a million stories!" Chris told 10 daily, adding, "How much time do you have?"

After showcasing his Greatest Hits: George Michael exhibition in Sydney last year, Cuffaro is currently displaying another set of snaps in his Greatest Hits: Grunge collection in Paddington's Blender Gallery until June 1st, featuring almost every musical icon from the iconic era.

"Greatest Hits: Grunge was part of a massive project I started eight years ago called Greatest Hits. Basically, because I have so much material, I could do a different exhibition every month for the next 10 years and not repeat myself," he explained.

"So the latest exhibition is a celebration of grunge music and my experiences in the grunge world during from 1989 up to 1992. All these photos are all about that time of my life and those amazing moments while taking these photos," he added.

And amazing moments they certainly are -- we had a chat to Chris at his exhibition where he regaled us with some incredibly interesting stories behind the photos. And while it may seem like the esteemed photographer had worked with every big name there is, he revealed there's still a few more stars on his bucket list that he'd love one day work with.

"Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce, and probably every hip hop star there is out there," he said, adding that he never plans to stop snapping.

"I've never settled once in my life,  I'm playing the long game. My goal is to do this for another 50 years if I can."

Check out just some of Chris' fascinating stories below, and be sure to check out his Greatest Hits: Grunge photo exhibition at Blender Gallery where it'll be until June 1st.

On shooting Nirvana...

"In 1991 I was going up to Seattle, it was my first ever trip there and I was headed there to shoot a band called cream Queensryche," Chris explained.

"I had an extra day off, so I asked the manager of Nirvana if they had time would they be able to do a photo shoot, and he said 'Yep, they need photos, they have a new drummer,'" he said.

"So that was the first shoot with Dave [Grohl] in the band. I did the shoot and then I got to know the guys really, really well. "

He added that thanks to Nirvana's manager, he quickly built relationships within the Seattle music scene, which at the time was a small, tight-knit community.

"You couldn't go to a show without running into somebody from a band, it was always a great atmosphere. After the show, a group of people would go to somebody's house and then party all night long. It just became a real tight family," he recalled.

On directing a version of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy"...

"I used to do still photos on the set of music videos, and I learned to direct while working with all these brilliant directors like David Fincher, James Cameron and Michael Bay," he said, adding, "So fast forward, and I'm working on this video where the band got lost and they spent hours trying to find them. And I'm just sitting there for four hours going, 'This is the dumbest thing I've ever seen!'"

He continued, "So one night I was with Eddie Vedder and his girlfriend -- we were at dinner, and I was telling the story and I said, 'I could do better than that, I can direct! I can direct us all night long and I won't even lose the band!'" he laughed.

"So when I sobered up the next day, I told Eddie again that I wanted to direct a music video, and I wanted it to be Pearl Jam's 'Jeremy'. So he asked the managers and they let me."

"I sold half my guitar collection to pay for the video, which cost me $25,000. We did a two-day shoot and it took me four months to edit the whole thing," he said.

And while the band went with a different video in the end, Chris said it was being able to take on such an amazing opportunity that meant the most to him.

"I'm proud of it to this day. I got what I wanted out of it, which was simply to prove that I can direct a music video," he added.

On working with Michael Hutchence...

"Michael? Oh, I've heard of him," Chris joked when asked about photographing the late INXS frontman. "Well, so that whole part of my life was in 1988, at the beginning of INXS's North American tour where I got to hang out with them for a few days -- Michael and I had a few mutual friends."

He continued, "I always say, those two days -- what little I remember of them -- it was amazing. They were such great guys and we had a lot of fun."

"Years later, a friend set up a shoot for Detour Magazine with Michael [Hutchence]. Michael was special -- and I was a huge INXS fan, like huge. So we ended up spending the day together and did a really great shoot," he said.

"To this day, I think it's one of the best shots of Michael that I've seen and I'm not even being biased... It really shows him off really, really well."

On his favourite shots from the 'Grunge' collection...

"I love this photo of [late Soundgarden frontman] Chris Cornell," he said. "That was shot at the music video for the song 'Jesus Christ Pose', which was actually written about one of my photos!"

He continued, "It came from when I took a photo of Perry Farrell from Jane's Addiction in bed doing a Jesus Christ pose -- and the Soundgarden song is about that exact photo," he said, adding, "I've never had any other musician write a song about anything or me, so that's really special."

He added, "I also love my photo of Eddie Vedder flipping the camera off... That was at the first Lollapalooza that Eddie and I were at, so I love that picture."

"Then, I'd say that one more that I really, really love is, is Nirvana in the shower -- because that's my shower! I shot them in my apartment and in my alley behind my apartment because I couldn't afford a location."

You can check out more of Chris Cuffaro's work on his website. 

Chris Cuffaro's Greatest Hits: Grunge photo exhibition runs until June 1st at the Blender Gallery in Sydney's Paddington