John and Yoko

In choosing photos for this blog, I usually shy away from really famous ones (Iwo Jima, the Time Square Kiss) because the chances are that most people not only have seen them but also know the backstories behind them (some probably even better than I do). So much ink have been also spilt for the above photo that I don’t want to add any more, and would let Annie Leibowitz talk about her own image:

The picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono lying on the floor together a few hours before he was murdered was ten years in the making. The first picture I took of John was my first important assignment from Rolling Stone, in 1970. Jann Wenner was going to New York to interview him, and I persuaded Jann that I should come too, mostly by explaining that I would be cheaper than anyone else. I flew youth fare and stayed with friends. Yoko said later that she and John were impressed that Jann let someone like me photograph people who were so famous. They were used to the best photographers in the world, and this kid showed up. But John didn’t treat me like a kid. He put me at ease. He was honest and straightforward and cooperative. That session set a precedent for my work with well-known people. John, who was a legendary figure, someone I revered, taught me that I could be myself.

I was carrying my three Nikons, with the 105mm lens on the body with a light meter. At one point, while John was talking to Yoko, I was using the 105 to take a reading and John looked up at me. It was a long look. He seemed to be staring at me, and I clicked the shutter.  That was the picture Jann chose for the cover when we got back to San Francisco. (below)

Ten years later, John and Yoko’s album Double Fantasy had just come out, and Jonathan Cott had done an interview with John for Rolling Stone. I photographed them at their apartment in the Dakota early in December, and then a few days later I came back with something specific in mind. John and Yoko were exchanging a kiss on the cover of the new album. It was a simple kiss in a jaded time. I thought about how people curl up together in bed, and I asked them to pose nude in an embrace. They had never been embarrassed about taking their clothes off. There was frontal nudity on die cover of Two Virgins, the first record they did together. They were artists. John had no problem with my idea, but Yoko said she didn’t want to take her pants off for some reason. So I said, “Oh, leave everything on.”

I made a Polaroid of them lying together and John looked at it and said, “You’ve captured our relationship exactly.” He had just spent live years being what he referred to as a house husband, taking care of their young son, Sean, and the new album was his return to a musical career. He took me aside and said that he knew that the magazine wanted just a picture of him. On the cover but that he wanted Yoko on the cover too. He said it was really important.

The photograph was taken in the late afternoon in a room overlooking Central Park. We were going to get together later to go over the transparencies, but that night, as John was returning home from a recording session, a deranged fan shot him. I heard the news from Jann. John had been taken to Roosevelt Hospital, and I went there and took a few pictures of the crowd that had gathered. Around midnight, a doctor came out. I stood on a chair and photographed him announcing that John was dead. Then I went back to the Dakota and stood with the mourners holding candles.

The picture looks like a last kiss now. Jann decided to publish it on the cover with no type on it except for the Rolling Stone logo. When I went to John and Yoko’s apartment to show Yoko a mock-up, she was lying in bed in a dark room. She said she was pleased with what we had done.

46 thoughts on “John and Yoko

  1. This photo is beautiful and makes me feel uneasy at the same time. I’m such a huge admirer of John and the feeling I get everytime I see this photo is indescribable. The museum I intern at featured this photo in an exhibition and I was taken aback when I found it. It’s even more beautiful in person. Such a poignant capture. I was born almost 10 years after John’s death but I guess it is possible to miss someone who you could never ever meet.

  2. The word you want is “abhorrent,” not “abhorring.”

    And by the way, since you don’t seem to recognize irony, let me clarify that I was being sarcastic when I thanked you a few posts up the page.

    • I know you tried to be sarcastic, MM. I found the best way to laugh at little poseurs trying to appear one is to answer their probing questions in all sincerity.

      So: I sincerely thank you for your grammatical correction.

  3. Why even comment if it’s to write something negative? Keep your small minded thoughts to yourself and just change websites if beautiful pictures and different life styles bother you.

    • Why don’t you exercise some open mindedness, mya – even a modest effort will go a long way, believe me, in your transition to a sociable person who appreciates opinions of others, however alien they might fell to your small mind that’s is used to received wisdom of your sophomore community college art history professor.

  4. I don’t know what’s more laughable, ETat – your misanthropy or your horrific spelling and grammar.

    In any case, I’m sure Yoko Ono is very concerned about a negative opinion from a nobody on the Internet.

  5. This is getting hilarious. ETat seems to have a *leeeeetle* bit of a problem with letting someone else get the last word. (Let’s see if he bites.)

  6. Hilarious is right.

    MM, this is the best “sarcasm” you could muster?
    You should go out more.

    In reply: yes, I like to have the last word. When conversing with half-wits it’s easy.

  7. He can go for ages, MM.
    For your next trip to a dictionary, MM, in addition to checking the difference between irony and sarcasm look up usage of “bait”.
    Hint: to qualify it should be a) clandestine b) witty. Neither applies in your case.

  8. Note how I’m not even saying anything. I’m just leaving comments that basically say “I’m leaving a comment.” And he STILL HAS TO ANSWER. I wonder if there’s a prize for the person who gets the last word?

  9. My respect for JL as an artist has declined sharply . I can barely abide his music , ( I still like WCHero ) and I will not touch his politics here . I remember the day he was murdered ( I was 13 ), because it was the only time I saw my father weep . I do not think history is going to be kind to those musical acts from the UK in the 60’s . They may be in the history books , but will they have a community around and about their music that is not necrotic ?
    Photo is not iconic .
    Maybe w/ the Beatles on ED S. of something .

  10. Oh I just wanted to search for some photos of the Beatles or Lennon when I found this post while reading the blog. I love it, and this picture is one of my favourite one of them.

  11. This photo is SICK and anyone who likes it is SICK. It shows how Yoko controlled John. The pre-Yoko John Lennon would never have even dreamed of posing like this.

    Yoko, the ultimate feminist, managed to take this famous, idolized macho man and turn him into a demeaned weird thing and called it “art.”

    You’ll note that in every photo of them together, you can tell who’s the master and who’s the slave,

    Most you commenters didn’t know the real John Lennon – the one before Yoko nabbed him – because you weren’t born yet. Believe me, he was NOTHING like this before this weird Japanese witch stole him from his wife and fans.

    Yoko used John to get HER voice heard around the world. It was all about HER.

    • It looks like a picture of a man who loves his wife very much. And a wife who loves her husband very much, but doesn’t want to take her clothes off. John grew up. Maybe you should try that. He also promoted love and peace. Maybe you should try that.

  12. Then again who are we to judge his actions and thoughts. If he was so great I’m sure he thought about all of this. I’m sure such man thought about what control was. If he choose to embrace that lifestyle then let him be. I’m sure he was the happiest he had ever been. In all that fame and power Yoko was his source of infinity. If you ask me, she was the slave, he was the master.

  13. The photo is “iconic” and also beautiful. Their relatrionship had gone full circle and frankly, he realized how important she was to him…almost like a mother and infant. He worshiped her entire being…as a child worships his mother, only this is a mature love. The picture is beautiful…it speaks volumes.

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