The Bakeree is making our August Belltown Artwalk (on August 12th 6-9pm) one for the books. Join us in taking a visit back to the 90’s grunge heyday along with iconic photographer, Karen Mason Blair. The show will feature her photos of legends like Nirvana, Sound Garden, and more while Bill Reid plays seldom heard in studio recordings from the greats that defined the era.
In anticipation of the show, we chatted with rock n’ roll hall of famer herself, Karen Mason Blair, to hear all about the glory days we love and how she became the quintessential photog behind The Flannel Years of grunge in Seattle.
As a natural start, I asked her how she got her beginning taking the photos for all these incredible bands. The delight of the scene at that time, the trip down memory lane rang clear as day in the tone of her voice. “Managing a band, they needed photos so I called a few photographers and asked them why they were all do expensive! I thought, ‘why don’t I just buy a camera?’” Born out of necessity as during this time there were no big budgets lying around to get small Seattle area bands the pictures that they needed. That decision turned into a much deeper love when she started snapping shots. “Rock and roll pictures were all over my walls. Once I realized I could marry music and photography I was like DONE!”
Of course, being in the right circle at the right time certainly helped. It wasn’t just the bands that Karen Mason Blair was managing in those early years, but the others in the scene as well that were wanting some time with Karen and her camera. “All the bands were my friends then they started getting signed and they were like Karen, take our picture!”, which has proven to be a pivotal part of what sets her images apart from all the other glamorous visions of rockstars taken over the decades.
“The strength of my photography is the relational part. We loved each other and supported each other, then I get to share that with you.”
That’s the same link that she refers to when I ask her if she has a favorite of her photos—a question impossible to ask with a collection of moments and memories like the one she has. “One of my favorite people was Kurt [Cobain]. Hands down, he was a love, ya know? And ya know, I really miss him. I miss them all.”
There’s a truth that a photographer can pull out when they know the subject and that trust is there. Karen, having been a staple in the music scene, was a comfort to the grunge stars she knew before the world did, making those intimate and powerful moments all the more real. I asked Karen what grunge means to her, what’s the word really translate to as someone who was there at the heart of it while the world took notice? “I’ll describe it in two words. Love and support, it was all love and support. We just— that’s my story.”
It’s interesting to listen to her talk about those days. She cites that back then, they were just pictures– they didn’t have nearly the crowd that they’ve got now and honestly, haven’t really been seen for 20 years. But now there’s a longing for that time and the rawness that came with it. People are paying attention and can’t get enough of these images that have been tucked away for so long.
Come and see her this coming Friday, August 12th from 6-9pm at The Bakeree Belltown and enjoy her work yourself. Let’s take it back to the 90’s from the perspective of someone who lived their life backstage.