Tim Hale photographed Chris Cornell in the summer of 1999 for AP. What follows below are some previously unpublished photos from that shoot, along with commentary from Hale.
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The ranch was in Hidden Hills, California; I can’t remember the name of the place. The shoot was five hours. This is important to bring up because usually a big rock star comes with a bunch of people, like a publicist who will say something like, “We have to be out of here in 30 minutes.” But he was in no hurry: It was just him and his girlfriend at the time. It was a really quiet vibe; between shots, he’d smoke cigarettes and shoot the shit. We’d walk all over the ranch and stop at certain locations.
The owner of the ranch was very accommodating. I asked if I could shoot Çhris in his truck and he gladly let us. When I shoot, I don’t want to tell anyone what to do. Many times, a photographer will use props or direct some kind of action. Many celebrities will come in and they need to be told what to do, and publicists like images that are super-polished. When I’m working, I never want to tell anyone what to do. I like to be completely invisible. These photos captured how real and down-to-earth Chris was. There was nothing fancy: There were no props or anything out of the ordinary. We had pulled some clothes and he’d pick [what he wanted to wear]. In most of the shots, he’s wearing his own clothes or some things that I had bought at Supply Sergeant—like that shirt with the star on it.
In those days, [my colleagues and I] would do test photographs with Polaroids because the negatives they produced had a really unique look to them and the fact that they instantly developed was great too, so you could see and share the images on set. When shooting these polaroids you had to place the negatives in water to clear the emulsifying chemical off of them. We’d carry a bucket of water on a shoot to put the Polaroid negatives in and we used to joke that we were “collecting souls” in the buckets. As you can see in these photographs Chris was one of the most unaffected celebrities I ever photographed. …
He was one of the biggest rock stars I ever shot, but super-nice, soft-spoken and the most normal dude. He was such a nice guy; I bet he was an amazing father. If you didn’t know he was in a huge band, you would’ve never known hanging out with him. He was the antithesis of all of that.