Friday, May 6, 2016

Julian Lennon

Julian Lennon, Toronto, Oct. 1991

I GREW UP IN A BEATLES HOUSEHOLD. My brother and sister would see them at Maple Leaf Gardens two months after I was born, and they provided the constant soundtrack to my childhood, either on top 40 AM radio or coming from my sister's record player. Which is to say I have never known a world without the Beatles. By this point in history the people who can say that are becoming a minority.

By the time I did Julian Lennon's portrait he'd released four albums and the giddy novelty of a young singer and songwriter who looked and sounded so much like his famous father should have worn off him. It hadn't, however, and I know that the boomer-aged brain trust that ran the editorial meetings at NOW chose him for our cover because this was the closest they'd ever get to having a live Lennon on the front of the paper. They were still living in the shadow of the Beatles, and so was Julian Lennon.

Which is probably why I felt to bad typing the first sentence of this post. I'm sure Julian Lennon would love to have the merits of his music judged outside the context of his father's very great fame - apparently still undiminished, even twenty-five years after this shoot. Perhaps one day it'll happen.

He's only made two records in the quarter century since the one he was publicizing when I made this shoot, having spent much of that time negotiating the particulars of his inheritance, collecting Beatles memorabilia, working with his charity foundation, tending to his father's legacy and - most interesting to me - launching a career as a photographer, which is, I suppose, something he can do that isn't likely to be judged by his father's benchmark.

Julian Lennon, Toronto, Oct. 1991

I didn't bring any lights with me when I shot Lennon at some unremembered Toronto hotel - or I might have, but I obviously didn't use them, finding just enough available light behind the sheer curtains of a big window. I was entranced with high-key lighting (I still am) and always sought out some variation on it whenever I could. Shooting in the soft penumbra of sunlight that came so cleanly through on the high floors of a hotel was something I'd do again and again.

I only shot a roll each of colour slide and black and white film. He was a willing enough subject, even though I didn't ask him to do much, really. Judging from the marks on my contact sheet I didn't print the shot at the top for the magazine, though I like it the best of all today. Digging through my work, I've realized recently that I often asked people to close their eyes when I took their portrait, or made sure I tripped the shutter whenever they did.

Julian Lennon, Toronto, Oct. 1991

The colour shots were framed to fit NOW's then-very strict cover format, which was very boring to work with and might explain why I chose to push the already warm afternoon light deeper into sepia monochrome by putting a warming filter on my lens. It's an OK shoot - nothing that would set the world on fire, but a simple, graphic solution to a situation where my task was to present my subject (and his very familiar features) to our readers.

I suppose part of me felt sorry for Julian Lennon when I showed up to shoot him, over twenty-five years ago. He was a famous man's son, destined to live and work in his shadow. The myth of Saint John the Martyr was well-established, but it was also common knowledge that John Lennon could be a mean-spirited person and an indifferent, even cruel, father and husband.

(He's my least favorite Beatle; I'm a George man, really.)

That said, it was probably easy for Julian Lennon to get the attention of record companies when he decided to make a record, and his name alone will open doors most people spend their whole lives trying to break down. Looking through his online portfolio, he certainly has access that I can still only dream of, three decades into my career.

As problems go, it's not really a bad one to have.


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