In March of 2009, when the Annenberg Space for Photography opened in Century City in Los Angeles, the most remarked-upon guest at the gala was David LaChapelle's date, Courtney Love.
I thought of Love during an unveiling of images late last week at the Annenberg -- all taken over the last two decades by Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx -- when he put up a photo of a homeless woman holding a sign reading, I'm Not A Bad Girl, I Just Made Bad Decisions.
Anyone wondering about the wisdom of the Annenberg's decision to feature the art of Sixx was happily surprised. Not only was his camera work fascinating and its variety a bit dazzling, but the rocker's world view as he answered questions from moderator Kristine McKenna and the audience was quite compelling.
Sixx, 51, said he'd been fascinated by the medium since the late '80s, but his interest didn't truly flower until around the time he got sober in 2001, after a long series of addictions, including a near-death by overdose, chronicled in his book The Heroin Diaries.
I'm very passionate about what I wrap my hands around, Sixx said. The recovery wants me to engage; the addiction made me disengage.
What recovery gives one, he added, is that it allows your heart to soften.
He noted that the subjects of his images range all over because my life isn't consistent. My life is chaotic. Rock 'n' roll is chaos.
Sixx -- who also has a new book and album out, both titled This Is Gonna Hurt -- alluded not just to his sobriety but to his struggle to show his individuality growing up, starting with a rough upbringing that included a sorta homeless delinquent stage.
I was a gnarly little kid, a fighter, he told the crowd. I try to hold on to that edge.
If you're Bill Gates, he added, individuality is okay -- in the beginning he was (called) a whack job.
His pictures, many of them in brooding black-and-white -- like a delicate study of a wet street in Prague at 3 a.m. -- were often grabbed on the run as he toured. He's asked for a portrait of many a prostitute in the world's capitals, but a certain gentleness emerges in the shots of the homeless -- or even of a shy hotel maid who said she was too ugly to photograph.
I said, 'I'm gonna take a picture and show you you're beautiful.'
The resulting image did just that.
I'm an emotional terrortist, Sixx said. If I see you have pain, I'm gonna pull it out of you.
Sixx's appearance was part of the Annenberg's Iris Nights lecture series and is linked to the gallery's Beauty Culture exhibit, which runs through November 27.