photographed by Bob Gruen, 29 Aug 1974 NYC
Bob Gruen tells the story of the shoot:
In late August, just after I had returned from a twelve-day tour of Japan with Yoko, John called and said that he needed pictures taken for his Walls and Bridges album.
The art director wanted to have a series of pictures, all of his face the same size with different expressions. Then they would cut the pictures into flaps, so you would have one series of his eyes, one of his mouth, another of his nose, and you could rearrange them in different faces and expressions, like a toy. John said they wanted him to go to a studio to get the photos taken, but he didn't want to go through the whole formal process, which would mean makeup and styling and various assistants fussing; it could take a day or two out of his schedule. He asked me to shoot the whole series of pictures just of his face. He was staying in a penthouse apartment on the East Side, and I figured I could just go over there and we could take pictures on his roof patio. It would take an hour and be done, instead of making it a whole big production. And that's pretty much how it turned out-the whole session took only a fraction of the afternoon.
I took dozens of photos of John wearing different eyeglasses, and at one point he ended up putting all the glasses on at once. It's become a really well-known photograph, and I think I know why it resonates with people. When you're looking at that picture, even though John has all these glasses on, you can look through them all straight to his eyes.
When we finished his face shots, John suggested we take more pictures so we'd have the publicity kit ready when the album was released. John posed on the roof in his black jacket. The whole skyline was visible, and I had an idea to play on the New York theme. I had given John a New York City T-shirt a year before. I used to buy them all the time on the street in Times Square and had a half dozen of them myself. One night on the way to see John at the studio I'd bought one for him and cut the sleeves off with my Buck knife, to complete the "New York" look. I asked if he still had the shirt, and he said yes. Fully a year and several moves after I'd given it to him, he still knew exactly where it was. I suggested he put it on, pointing out that it was the perfect time to wear it. He disappeared for a minute and came back up to the roof wearing the shirt.
We had a good time that day, and John enjoyed having his picture taken. He'd been posing for pictures for years, ever since he was first in a band. He knew how to do it and posing came naturally to him. John saw it as part of show business, which it very much is. Like a good model, John would change positions and his expressions while I took photos. I don't give a lot of direction; I'm not one of those photographers who shouts, "Give me more, baby!" I'm actually pretty quiet when I take pictures and let my subjects find their poses naturally. Some photographers love to give direction, but I feel that if I tell people what to do, they're more likely to focus on pleasing me, rather than just being themselves. My style worked well with John. He and I would usually chat and make jokes while we worked. I would keep up a conversation and the pictures would inevitably become part of it.
I think people are drawn to the New York City picture because John is so relaxed. I once heard a graduate class in communications critique the photo of John in the New York T-shirt. One student described it as "self-revelatory"-the shirt says New York, the background says New York. The crossed arms and cut-off shirt say New York attitude. New York is represented as a strong, independent idea, and John is as well. The class felt he was also a bit aloof; he's got a rock star's distance, in that he's got sunglasses on, even though it feels like he's looking you right in the eye.
One of the reasons I like this picture so much is that John wasn't posing as a New Yorker - he was a New Yorker. And he was proud of it.
~ Bob Gruen
Bob Gruen's photographic book, 'John Lennon: The New York Years' is available on Amazon at bit.ly/JLTNYY
Photo © 1974 Bob Gruen
To purchase a print or license this photo, email Bob Gruen's Studio at [email protected]
Image #: C-167
See more of Bob' Gruen's John & Yoko Ono photos at http://www.bobgruen.com/john-lennon-yoko-ono/