“It was just like, ‘There’s no way we can make an album cover out of this,'” Robert Fisher remembers thinking.
During a recent conversation with Milanote, artist Robert Fisher talked about creating the cover art for Nirvana’s 1991 landmark sophomore album “Nevermind,” remembering Kurt Cobain’s original idea for it.
“Kurt wanted a baby being born underwater. Back then before the internet, you would have to go down to the local bookstore and go through child birthing books and try to find photos.
“So that’s what I did. But it was just like, ‘There’s no way we can make an album cover out of this.’ I couldn’t find any really good pictures and they were all way too graphic to use.”
After the childbirth idea was ruled out, Robert started exploring other options featuring babies underwater. He explained:
“We thought, ‘OK, we’ve gotta make it more than just a baby underwater.’ So Kurt came up with the idea of adding a fishhook to make it more menacing.
“We spent the afternoon sitting around thinking of all the funny things we could put on the fishhook. One idea was a piece of meat, like a big raw steak. Another was a CD or something to kind of symbolize music. We went to lunch and we were like, ‘How about a burrito?’ ‘Oh there’s a dog, what about a dog?’… it just went on for hours.
“I don’t remember who said dollar bill but everyone was like, ‘That’s pretty good,’ and that’s what it ended up being.
“The thing with the whole process… Kurt didn’t come with like a grand plan or a message he wanted to get across. It all kind of came together organically you know, it was like one step led to another step that led to another.”
After the team settled for photographer Kirk Weddle, the shooting was underway. Fisher remembers:
“We hired Kirk to shoot the photos at the Pasadena Aquatic Centre. He got four or five different parents to come down and lend us their babies and take turns passing them in front of the camera. If you look closely at the final image, you can see the parent’s handprint on the baby’s chest where they were holding it right before they passed it.
“A week later, I got a couple of proof sheets back, maybe 40 or 50 shots. There was just one that was absolutely perfect. The positioning, the look on the baby’s face, the way that his arms were stretched out like he was reaching for something – everything about it was just perfect. That’s the one I picked.
“Back before computers, you used to have guys sitting in dark rooms getting paid lots of money to do what we do now in Photoshop. We had to get the photo scanned and then you would mark it up with a pencil to show what you wanted done like, ‘Add a dollar bill here’ or, ‘Put some bubbles here, take out the bottom of the pool.’ Then you’d send it off, and in four or five days you’d get it back. You’d open the envelope like, ‘Ohhhh!’
“I went to the bait and tackle shop and got some fishhooks. I sent the photographer those with a couple of polaroids of how I wanted the dollar bill to look. Then I sent those photos to the color separator and they scanned them and put them in.”
As for the word “Nevermind” on the cover, Robert added:
“I wanted the word ‘Nevermind’ to look kind of underwater and wavy. So I had the type printed out and I held it on a Xerox machine. As it was scanning I wiggled the image and it put waves through it.
“Then I scanned it again and wiggled it in another direction. That’s how I got the wavy type. Now you’d just go on a computer and use filters or whatever, and people say the wavy type is kinda cheesy. But back in the day, it was groundbreaking dammit!”
The designer concluded:
“I remember the first time I saw it with all the type on it and everything… it was perfect. I was so happy with it. When I showed the final cover for the first time to the band and management, they loved it and didn’t have a single change. Nirvana was such a great band and the two together just made magic I guess.”
“Nevermind” was released on September 24, 1991, via DGC Records. It sold over 30 million copies worldwide.