Whether snapping daily life in Cuba or members of the Irish rock band U2, photographer and singer Julian Lennon says the pictures he most likes taking are spontaneous.
“The ones that really I enjoy the most are … spur of the moment,” Julian said.
Julian is sharing a selection of his photos in a virtual exhibition called “Vision” on the website of Aston Martin Residences in Miami.
“It’s about… giving people a glimpse into other worlds that they may never get to see,” he said.
Lennon remembers one specific moment he says had a big impact on his work: one late afternoon in 2010, while lying on the floor, Lennon photographed U2 lead singer Bono – with a picture of John Lennon behind him.
“Initially I thought ‘oh, that’s a ‘Lennon sandwich’ but that wouldn’t have been a good title, of course,” he joked.
“But I just thought, ‘oh my God, this is someone to look up to. He (Bono) was a massive fan of dad’s as I was and I was a massive fan of his as well so it was just the moment that really switched my focus on how to photograph things.”
Lennon, also known for his music and charity work, held his first photo exhibition in New York in 2010.
Among his photos showing at “Vision” are Caribbean sunsets, murals in Colombia, U2 working on songs and South African swimmer Charlene Wittstock getting ready for her civil wedding to Prince Albert of Monaco.
“I think why the likes of the U2 boys and others have trusted me being around them is because I’ve been through that mill… whether it’s paparazzi or otherwise,” Lennon said.
“And I know that when you’re in the creative zone, whether that’s music or otherwise, that you don’t want distractions.”
Lennon was five when his parents separated. His father’s bandmate Paul McCartney famously wrote “Hey Jude” as a comfort for him.
“It’s a love-hate relationship with ‘Hey Jude’,” he said. “It’s great appreciation… but it’s a sad memory too.”
Since Julian Lennon astounded us with his 1984 solo debut Valotte, he’s repeatedly proven himself a beautiful and poetic storyteller. Now, at 58, with six studio albums and an essential lifetime honing his craft as a photographer, Aston Martin Residences in Miami recently unveiled The Art Gallery with an exclusive virtual exhibition, Vision: 27 images of Julian’s rarest photos, including unseen work, developed at the height of the pandemic, curated by the artist himself. He is the first featured artist in this virtual gallery program.
From his exclusive shoot with U2, to portraits of the Princess of Monaco, Charlene Wittstock, to his work in fashion and travel, this state-of-the-art, immersive 3D experience is now showing through July 7 on the Aston Martin Residences website.
“I aim to grant the viewer intimate access to the lives and locations of my subjects, as well as insight into my own personal journey,” Julian says. “In a city as vibrant and diverse as Miami, I invite the residents to draw a relationship to their own lives in these images, and to unite us through empathy in the lives of others.”
Son of Beatle John Lennon and his first wife Cynthia, and the inspiration for such beloved classics as “Hey Jude” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, Julian’s work consistently reflects warmth and purest intention, whether through his music, photography, thoughtful filmmaking and philanthropy, or his acclaimed children’s book series about honoring the earth.
As his full name reflects—Julian Charles John Lennon—he is his father’s son, but an artist in his own right. For those who don’t know Julian Lennon, Vision is an excellent place to start.
We spoke with Julian about how he started taking photos, that U2 shoot, and why there’s no such thing as perfection. How did you start taking pictures? Do you remember your first camera? Likely, the same way most people do…by being given a camera as a present, in one’s youth.
I don’t necessarily remember my first, though the most important one was a Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera, which I still have to this day.
What’s the difference between making music and photography? Well, both are about capturing a moment, an essence, a time and a place in many ways… I prefer to see the similarities than the difference… It’s all about embracing and sharing various art forms.
Music nowadays is so corporatized — can you still get spontaneous or revealing photographs of rock stars? There’s always something that hasn’t been seen… How did your U2 shoot come about? I was staying at a house, and the U2 boys were looking for a place to write and possibly record, and I was leaving for NYC for my first ever photography exhibition, at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, formerly CBGB’s.
So, I suggested they use the house, as it had some great sounding rooms. They did! But after we agreed, I found out my exhibition was delayed… So, I moved in with a friend next door, until I could leave for the exhibition. In the meantime, I’d popped over to see “The Boys” and Edge (knowing I was an up and coming photographer) said, I know you’d like to take a few pics, let me talk to the others and I’ll let you know.
The next day, Edge said, “It’s all good…” I was overjoyed, but very nervous, as I didn’t want to get in their way, and didn’t know them so well at that point. So, I went over, camera in hand, but they also had “in-house” photographers there, shooting video too, so it was a fairly busy landscape. Trying to not distract, I only popped in on a few occasions, as I didn’t want to disturb them. But… the first time I went over and snapped away, I came back and looked at the images on my laptop, and thought they looked terrible, not the band, the pictures. Like quick holiday snaps.
But I was fortunate enough to be chatting to Bono one early evening, and it was very chilled and relaxed, and I was literally just laying on the floor, looking up at Bono, who was sitting on a chair, staring out of the window, but low and behold, there was a picture of Dad, up high on the wall behind him… And so, just took a snap, then and there, and thought, “That’s it!” What transformed me right then and there, was that I was shooting most earlier pictures “head on”…and what inspired me about this particular shot was the angle. Without that particular angle that I was at, laying on the floor, looking up at a hero of mine, who was sitting underneath a picture of one of his heroes… Well, it just wouldn’t have happened, and that made me realize, that we should all look at things from time to time from a different perspective, as that may just give us a better understanding of the situation around us, or the situation we’re in.
It was because of that particular photo that my understanding of photography and communication through imagery changed forever, and I’ve never looked back since. It continues to remain one of my favorite images, alongside “Wake up and Dream” which is of Edge walking by a whiteboard, with that exact title, but he’s walking away, so you cannot see his face, but you know it’s him.
And because of that time with them, and with their agreement that I was able to use these images at my first ever exhibition, between some Rock ’n’ Roll images and the fine art photography of clouds and landscapes that I had originally intended for the exhibition.
“Imperfections” are what can make a photo so special—would you agree? I absolutely agree. But also, there’s no such thing as perfection, at least, not in my book. Even “perfection” in one person’s eye, can be truly ugly in another’s…
How does great photography distinguish someone when everyone, because of phone cameras, is a “photographer”? I believe most true artists have a unique trait/quality about them, something that distinguishes themselves from others…and I think that shows. It’s not tangible as such…[it’s] a look/feel/sound…
What intrigues you most about Cuba? I was fascinated as it was one of the many countries I hadn’t visited. And I had a friend who moved there, who was telling me all about how wonderful and magical it was. So when I had a spare week, I just booked a flight, got on a plane, camera in hand, and off I went. Generally, that’s how most of my trips happen, unless they’re charity orientated.
What is your favorite photograph by someone else? “California, 1955” by Elliot Erwitt, and by looking at my Cuba collection, you’ll see why.
Who’s the sexiest person you ever photographed? On a professional level, I’m not sure I have yet. What makes a photograph intimate? I believe it’s a sense that you can relate to it…possibly in a number of ways…a time, a place, a string of one’s memory…
Which rock star/group do you wish you’d shot and didn’t (or hope to)? Aye, aye, aye….that question gives me a brain ache! There are too many to mention, or consider one over the other…
I have some portraits coming up later this year that may answer this question.
Julian was named a UNESCO Center For Peace 2020 Cross-Cultural and Peace Crafter Award Laureate.
To acknowledge his humanitarian efforts through The White Feather Foundation and his support for many causes, UNESCO presented Julian Lennon with the UNESCO Center for Peace 2020 Cross-Cultural & Peace Crafter Award.
The award was given by Senator Ronald N. Young of Frederick County, representing The Maryland General Assembly.
Upon receiving the honour, Julian commented:
“To be recognised for charity efforts on the International Day of Peace means the world to me. The causes I support are very dear to my heart. and my only hope is that this award gives even more exposure to those in need and inspires more people to help with preserving Indigenous cultures, taking action to help the environment, providing clean water, and supporting better health and education in underdeveloped communities. I accept this award with the deepest gratitude.”
Julian, you are Executive Producer of the documentary Kiss the Ground, narrated by Woody Harrelson, which will premiere on Netflix on 22 September, and have produced other environmental documentaries in the past such as Whaledreamers and Women of the White Buffalo. What drew you to this particular project about soil regeneration?
There are a lot of doom-and-gloom exposés about climate change out there, and rightfully so, but it’s always nice to watch and learn from something that brings hope. That is what drew me to become involved with Kiss the Ground— the message of hope. In this film, we’re not only bringing the climate crisis to the forefront, we’re offering a feasible solution that could impact the entire planet.
What do you enjoy most about producing and how did you begin your producing career?
I think what I enjoy most about producing is watching how the completed films can influence people to see an issue from a new perspective, or learn about something new and inspire them to take action. I began my producing career with Whaledreamers, which was an effort to bring awareness to The Mirning People in Australia after I learned about their struggles to preserve their land and culture.
Did you know much about the biosequestration process beforehand or was this all a real learning curve for you? During the making of the documentary what were some of the biggest revelations for you regarding this process, and the profound ways in which it can heal the planet?
I was well-versed in the devastating effects that carbon dioxide has on the planet by way of greenhouse gases, but I didn’t know that biosequestration could be the answer to restoring atmospheric balance. I’ve always believed that nature can solve nature, I just perhaps didn’t realize there was a simple solution to such a monumental problem, literally right at our feet.
What valuable or optimistic messages are you and your fellow filmmakers hoping that viewers will take away from Kiss the Ground?
That science can bring miracles, and that if we work together, the planet’s problems that once seemed impossible to solve can be overcome.
Are you looking to set up any healthy soil initiatives that can build upon the discoveries made in the documentary that perhaps people can become involved with?
The film’s debut won’t be the last you hear of our movement. Our team at The White Feather Foundation will certainly explore creative ways to communicate how individuals can take action based on the film’s learnings.
How do you personally keep positive in the face of what seems like a constant, mindless onslaught of destruction wreaked on our planet? Are there any things that you particularly like to do to help recharge and retain balance such as meditation, spending time in nature, getting lost in your photography or your music?
Without question, the 24/7 reminders of the harm we’re doing to the planet sadden me, but I do my best to find light in spite of it, because it’s a destructive mental path to go down otherwise. All of the things you mention are ways that I cope, especially my almost-daily 3-6km power walks in nature. At the water’s edge, or on a deserted trail high in the mountains are where I truly disconnect and reconnect with what’s important. I wrote a piece for our charity about this for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day earlier this year.
As a bestselling children’s author, do you remember spending lots of time in nature as a child, and did your mum, Cynthia Lennon, encourage this love and appreciation for nature and the environment?
Absolutely—I was a kid who played outdoors morning to night, climbing trees and running around with my friends in the countryside of North Wales. Mum always encouraged time in nature and seeing how many kids are growing up today, attached to their screens and devices, I’m grateful I was raised in a simpler time. I think the more we expose children to nature, the greater appreciation they have for taking care of it.
When writing the White Feather Flier three-book set which encourages children to love and appreciate the planet and care for the environment, did you find it challenging to find a way to convey such complex subject matters and make them relatable to children?
Writing for a young audience was definitely a new experience for me. I was lucky to collaborate with my friend Bart Davis on the series, who was already an accomplished author when we began, so that definitely helped. But yes, taking very real and sometimes frightening concepts and making them not only understandable, but enjoyable for a young audience was not an easy feat, though I enjoyed the process very much.
In 2007, you founded The White Feather Foundation, which supports environmental and humanitarian issues from around the world. How did the organisation begin?
Years ago when I was young, my Dad told me that if he were to pass away, he would let me know he was okay, or that we were all going to be okay, by sending me a white feather. Then, when I was on tour in Adelaide, Australia, promoting my album Help Yourself and it’s No 1 Environmental Single Saltwater, I was resting in my hotel when the manager called my room and summoned me to the lobby where an Aboriginal Tribe was waiting to speak with me. There, one of the tribal elders presented me with a white male swan’s feather and said “You have a voice, can you help us?” because their people were battling to save their culture. I had goosebumps head to toe and recognized this as a sign to shift my life away from music and more toward humanitarian work. In the course of getting to know The Mirning People, I made the Whaledreamers film about them, and to ensure the proceeds went back to their tribe, I formed The White Feather Foundation. Now, we not only help with the preservation of Indigenous cultures around the world, but our areas of giving have expanded to the environment, clean water, education and health.
As a visual artist, you have a passion for photography. Can you tell us about some of your influences, and have any of these found their way into your visual style of filmmaking?
I have always felt that I observed life in a different way than others, so I’m thankful that photography has given me an outlet to express that. Landscapes are my favourite thing to capture and Ansel Adams is someone I admire in that respect. Where people and fly-on-the-wall glimpses of life are concerned, I’m inspired by Mick Rock, Henry Diltz and my dear friend and mentor, Timothy White. I’m not sure how much of my visual style is reflected in filmmaking—that’s probably a better question for the audience.
Having diversified in music, photography, filmmaking, acting, and writing during your career, is there one discipline you feel more drawn or inspired by going forwards?
I enjoy working in each area, of course, but most recently I’d say photography has been at the top of the list. I’m happiest when I’m heading into unknown territory, exploring areas I’ve never travelled. There are so many places and cultures I still want to see and share with the world.
Kiss the Ground premieres on Netflix on 22 September.
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