One More light
Photographer Jim Louvau honors his late friend, Chester Bennington
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Jim Louvau was driving along a Valley freeway when Linkin Park came on the radio. As the song ended, he flipped channels, only to hear the Grammy-winning band once again.
Louvau can’t seem to escape the rock band and that is precisely the problem. He can’t get away from the music or memories of his friend, Chester Bennington, who died by suicide on July 20, 2017.
“It’s terrible every day,” Louvau says with his eyes turned down. “It’s different when you lose a family member, where it affects your immediate circle. You get back to regular life and you can get away from it when you do other things.
“But when your friend happened to be as successful as he was, his music’s not going anywhere or going away anytime soon.”
A photographer/musician/writer, Louvau is hosting “Celebrating the Life of Chester Bennington” at MonOrchid in Phoenix on Friday, June 21. The exhibit will honor the late Linkin Park singer through a series of photographs they created. Louvau captured Bennington on and off stage and the North Valley resident is bringing the show, which sold out in Burbank, California, to the singer’s home state.
The Burbank show’s success snowballed. TMZ and other outlets reported about it, much to Louvau’s dismay. Louvau was appalled with TMZ’s intrusive coverage of Bennington’s death and its reporters’ persistence in contacting him.
“I woke up at 8 in the morning and my phone was blowing up,” Louvau recalls about the morning of the show’s second day.
“I had text messages, missed calls, voicemails, emails, Facebook messages and DMs on Instagram from TMZ trying to track me down,” he says.
“I was really, really annoyed at the time. I was getting text messages from my family members, too, because TMZ was calling them to get to me. This was all by 8 in the morning and I’d been out all night. Plus, some of the coverage TMZ did when Chester passed was pretty tasteless. I was really skeptical about talking to them. I told them I wasn’t available and to reach out to my publicist.”
Like Burbank, the MonOrchid show will benefit 320 Change Direction, a charity co-founded by Bennington’s wife, Talinda, bringing awareness to mental health. She gave Louvau her blessing to host the show.
Louvau says he was surprised the Burbank show sold out. As a matter of fact, filled so quickly a second night was added and sold out. Fans strolled among the larger-than-life portraits of Bennington.
“The vibe in the room both nights was incredible,” Louvau says. “It was a celebration of a person who impacted a lot of people’s lives.”
The surviving Linkin Park musicians, whom Louvau does not know, did not attend the show. Thanks to the success of Louvau’s Burbank show, he has been asked to bring the event overseas.
“They don’t understand how, logistically, that would work,” he says. “They don’t fit in cars. I had to get a U-Haul to get them home from California.”
A shared love of music
Louvau was set to play the Mason Jar with his band, Victims in Ecstacy, in the early 2000s when the manager asked if he would consider switching places with the opening act, Linkin Park.
“He said one of the guys was from Phoenix and his family couldn’t make it out early,” he says. “He asked if we would mind going on earlier. I said it was fine because it was the middle of the week and I could get out of there sooner.”
That was shortly before the release of Linkin Park’s first record, 2000’s “Hybrid Theory.” At the time, labels put their “baby bands” on the road, with the hopes of landing opening spots for established acts in various markets. There was something special about Louvau and Bennington’s relationship from the beginning.
“We had an issue where we broke the snare drum, so I was on stage trying to entertain people and trying to figure out how we were going to do this,” Louvau recalls.
“Then there’s Chester coming to the rescue, grabbing their snare drum and we finished the show that way. That was the beginning of our friendship.”
A few months later, Louvau and Bennington ran into each other at a radio show.
“I was backstage, and I get a tap on my shoulder,” Louvau says. “It was Chester and he was telling me how much he loved my band and loved the show.
“When I met him, his band wasn’t massive. We were just two guys in bands. It was nothing more than two peers. We did the same thing. He just happened to be really successful with it.”
Louvau took a break from music to be a photographer, which he calls “the second coolest thing in the world that I could think of to capture my favorite artists.” Bennington — who also played with Dead by Sunrise and Stone Temple Pilots — was willing to work with Louvau to help him hone his craft.
“I have almost a decade’s worth of photos of him — performing on stage with Linkin Park, the Stone Temple Pilots or walking down the hallways of Cardon Children’s Hospital,” Louvau says.
“I watched him talk to sick kids and families. I have all these different characteristics of Chester through photos. I never thought they would mean so much. I was just taking photos of a friend.”
Louvau attended Glendale’s Ironwood High School. For as long as he can remember, he’s wanted to pursue music or photography.
“I had this idea that if I was going to be a musician, I had to give that 100% and nothing else could fit into my creative spectrum,” he says. “As I got older, I figured out that was ridiculous. I can do both at the same time and be equally as passionate about both.
“I’m lucky I have both because, if I was just doing one all the time, I would lose my mind. They complement each other and they’ve opened doors for the other as well, which is cool.”
Louvau, who now fronts There is No Us, quit his full-time job four years ago to become a freelance photographer when his mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. He juggled caregiving, photography and writing.
“I had to create opportunities for myself so I could spend as much time with my mom as I could,” Louvau says. “I spent eight months with her and learned the ropes of what it really meant to be a freelancer. It was definitely a gift from her because she was freelancing in her own industry.
“You have to have a lot of guts to not work a regular job and really go for it — especially in this market. I haven’t worked since the day we found out she was ill.”
Louvau says his multifaceted career is his way of channeling energy — nervous, anger, happiness and sadness.
“It could be whatever makes you tick,” he says. “That’s why so many people gravitate toward musicians. They’re saying these things a lot of people feel.”
Bennington is included in that group. The last day the two spent together, Bennington played the “One More Light” record — which was released two months before the singer died — for Louvau as they cruised the California coast.
“I played my new music,” Louvau says. “It’s really heavy and he’s rocking out as he’s driving. I look over just trying to gauge his reaction.
“He says, ‘Now for something completely different. We just made a pop record.’ I thought it’s probably going to sound a lot like Linkin Park. But yeah, it was a pop record and every time a song or a chorus would change, he looked at me to see my reaction. It was cool because when I was playing my stuff for him, I was nervous. He was equally as nervous playing his stuff.”
“Nervous” wasn’t Louvau’s only feeling. He says the music was blatantly troubling and that stayed with him.
“After he passed, I said these feelings were with him the whole time,” Louvau says. “It was just being presented in a different way because the music was different. It was from the first single to the last and everything in between.”
Gossip publications and TV shows reported Bennington’s suicide was inspired by Chris Cornell taking his life on May 18, 2017. Louvau says that isn’t so.
“I wouldn’t say Chris Cornell inspired it because there was already a lot of things going on. He shared with me …,” Louvau says quickly redirecting the conversation. “I don’t think the Chris Cornell thing helped. We’re sitting here, right now, on the two-year anniversary of Chris Cornell’s passing.
“Sometimes it feels like it’s been five years. Sometimes it feels like it’s been six months.”
“Celebrating the Life of Chester Bennington” is Louvau’s way of mourning the singer and thanking him.
“I do these exhibits to honor and thank him because he was a really big part of my story in the beginning,” Louvau says. “He’s a really big part of my story again now. He opened doors for me in the beginning and he’s opening doors for me every day still. It’s unfortunate, the circumstances. I look at it like this: I take the gifts my mother and Chester left me and I’m doing my best to make the best of terrible situations.”