Alice Wheeler’s Outcasts & Innocents: Three decades of music and culture in the Pacific Northwest (PHOTOS).

The Pacific Northwest in the ’90s Was More Than Just Nirvana 

The Pacific Northwest in the ’90s Was More Than Just Nirvana 

Behold
The Photo Blog
Nov. 9 2015 11:32 AM

The Pacific Northwest in the ’90s Was More Than Just Nirvana 

bikinikill
Bikini Kill at St. Joseph’s Hall, 18th Avenue East, Oct. 20, 1991.

© Alice Wheeler/courtesy minor matters books and Greg Kucera Gallery

When Alice Wheeler first came onto the Seattle scene in the early 1980s, most male photographers told her that her style of photography, especially the ways in which she photographed women, wasn’t up to par.

“It took me years to figure out what they meant by that,” she said. “I think it was photo language for you’re making work that’s not popular; you’re a little too edgy or bright. Why are you photographing these girls? Their boobs aren’t big enough.”

But Wheeler’s vision has always been about documenting what’s out there. A Nebraska native, she moved to Seattle when she was 19, taking her camera everywhere and documenting the creative and collaborative spirit of an era that many associate with Nirvana and grunge. Her new book, Outcasts & Innocents, published by Minor Matters, collects a mix of color and black-and-white photos and sheds light on elements of the Pacific Northwest culture that are often forgotten or didn’t make a marketable imprint on mainstream America.

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“Part of the book is me putting it out there to see how the world responds. I’ve met a lot of people who moved to Seattle to write about Kurt Cobain, but to me, Kathleen Hanna is just as important.”

toyland
Babes in Toyland at the Crocodile Café, Second Avenue, 1993.

©Alice Wheeler/courtesy minor matters books and Greg Kucera Gallery

nirvana
Nirvana at Point Defiance State Park, Tacoma, Washington, August, 1988.

©Alice Wheeler/courtesy minor matters books and Greg Kucera Gallery

wto
Three women protesting at the World Trade Organization conference, Dec. 2, 1999.

©Alice Wheeler/courtesy minor matters books and Greg Kucera Gallery

elliotsmith
Elliott Smith backstage at RKCNDY, Yale Avenue, 1996.

©Alice Wheeler/courtesy minor matters books and Greg Kucera Gallery

Wheeler still meets people who move to Seattle looking to write about Cobain and feels the further removed we are from his death, the more distorted his history becomes. She hopes publishing the book will help keep things in perspective not only about Cobain but also the culture from which he emerged.

“They’re trying to change the myth about him as being a rock star when the more interesting stuff was going on earlier when there was this huge creative, collaborative community,” she said.

Wheeler said she was so caught up in what was happening during the 1980s and ’90s that she wasn’t aware of the impact Nirvana had made in American culture until she finally got cable television and saw the saturation of their videos.

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“I was shocked because it was like, wow, somebody I know is on heavy rotation on MTV.”

Wheeler's ability to maintain a focus on her art and surroundings has always been part of her life. As a child, she often traveled with her parents who took her to see art during the day and then returned home to make their own creations. “My mother’s method of child care was, ‘here, sit down and draw something, and leave me alone.’ ” 

necocase
Neko Case and Her Boyfriends, Tacoma, Washington, 2000.

©Alice Wheeler/courtesy minor matters books and Greg Kucera Gallery

hanna
Kathleen Hanna at her apartment, Olympia, Washington, November 1992.

©Alice Wheeler/courtesy minor matters books and Greg Kucera Gallery

johnme
Self-portrait with John at the Subterranean Cooperative of Urban Dreamers, Western Avenue, New Year’s Eve/Morning, 1989.

©Alice Wheeler/courtesy minor matters books and Greg Kucera Gallery

greenriver
Visiting the Green River killer’s abduction sites, Pacific Highway South, 1997.

©Alice Wheeler/courtesy minor matters books and Greg Kucera Gallery

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.