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The man whose baby photo appeared on Nirvana's 'Nevermind' album cover has sued the band

Spencer Elden, now 30, is seeking $150,000 in damages for the "lifelong damages" he has suffered as a result of the image.

The man whose baby photo appeared on Nirvana's 'Nevermind' album cover has sued the band
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Spencer Elden is the man who was photographed for the rock band Nirvana's 'Nevermind' album cover as a baby. Now aged 30, he is suing the music group for alleged sexual exploitation. At four months old, he was photographed in a swimming pool, grasping for a dollar bill that is being dangled in front of him on a fishing line. His genitalia is visible. The album cover has become one of the most enduring images in rock music following the record's release, but according to Elden, the nude image constitutes child pornography. In addition to this, he has claimed that his parents never officially signed a release form authorizing the use of his image on the album, CNN News reports.


The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday this week at a federal court in California. According to legal documents, Elden claims he has suffered "lifelong damages" as a result of the image. The documents read, "The images exposed Spencer's intimate body part and lasciviously displayed Spencer's genitals from the time he was an infant to the present day." The lawsuit also alleges that he was sexualized and likened to a "sex worker" due to the dollar bill used in the image (the currency was superimposed after the photograph was taken). Furthermore, the suit claims that Nirvana had promised to cover Elden's genitals with a sticker. However, this alleged agreement was evidently not upheld.


Elden states his "true identity and legal name are forever tied to the commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor which has been distributed and sold worldwide from the time he was a baby to the present day." He is therefore demanding damages of at least $150,000 from each of the 15 defendants, who include surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic; the managers of Kurt Cobain's estate; Cobain's former wife Courtney Love; and photographer Kirk Weddle.


In general, non-sexualized images of children are not considered child pornography under United States law. Despite this, Elden's lawyer Robert Y. Lewis has argued that the nature of the photo should constitute child sexual exploitation. In the past, Elden has recreated the album cover, both as a teenager and an adult. He published recreations of the cover to mark the record's 10th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries, always wearing swimming trunks. Nonetheless, he has previously expressed a sense of ambivalence about the now-famous image as well as the photoshoot that preceded it.


"I just woke up already being a part of this huge project," he said in a 2016 interview with TIME Magazine. "It's pretty difficult, you feel like you're famous for nothing. It's hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved. [When] I go to a baseball game and think about it: 'Man, everybody at this baseball game has probably seen my little baby penis,' I feel like I got part of my human rights revoked." In other interviews, he has been more positive about the image. For instance, he told The Guardian six years ago, "It's always been a positive thing and opened doors for me. I'm 23 now and an artist, and this story gave me an opportunity to work with Shepard Fairey for five years, which was an awesome experience. He is a huge music connoisseur: when he heard I was the Nirvana baby, he thought that was really cool."


Weddle, on the other hand, has expressed some remorse over the photo. In 2019, he too spoke with The Guardian and stated that he was still in touch with Elden. He claimed he was "conflicted about the picture." He shared, "He feels that everybody made money off it and he didn't. I think he deserves something. But it's always the record labels that make the money."


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