John Lennon (1940 - 1980) Twickenham Film Studios. England, January 1969
I was asked to photograph John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Hugh Curry, Canadian former CHUM-FM Toronto Radio disk jockey now on an assignment as a television reporter to interview John Lennon & Yoko Ono, for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). My role was to take stills photographs of these musicians, although the TV program would be made from the recorded and filmed interviews, while my stills were in effect not strictly speaking required for this purpose, just an after thought by Hugh Curry.
When we arrived at Twickenham Film Studios, it was a crisp bright sunny morning. As we walked through the car park passed two tall, attractive willowy, blonde girls with long legs in miniskirts, hanging around John Lennon's Mercedes car. Fans hoping to see him - the very person we were soon meeting.
With our small film crew now gathered we entered the Studio. I recall seeing a young man with ginger hair shining a brass trumpet. The lighting was quite low key. The Beatles were sitting on some seats chatting and the film director Lindsay-Hogg had a cigar firmly if theatrically placed in his mouth. His instructions to his camera operators was to film the Beatles from the moment they arrived to the moment they left. Looking back in my memory, the filming now seems like a very early reality show, way before its time, because the cameras were almost continually filming everything the Beatles were doing or not doing.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono joined our small crew which had now completed setting up the equipment to the side of the Beatles set which was basically more or less just space. The interview was sound recorded on a nagra in sync with the filming on a 16mm Arriflex camera. Because the 16mm 400 foot film magazines only last a bit less than seven minutes. the film magazines needed changing and reloading a number of times during the interview. This created the time for me to take the stills photographs. John and Yoko were very natural in front of my camera, so photographing them was a very organic process.
At one point Mal Evan, the Beatles personal assistant and road manager, came over casually to John Lennon and you could feel their friendship as they chatted. Mal Evans had many roles for the Beatles one was minder. I think he was just discretely checking all was well and it was clear that was the case.
In the interview Hugh Curry had a good rapport with John & Yoko who talked about their artwork, about their performance art with its intrinsic humour, about the music work they did together and the avant-garde scene. John Lennon mentioned that in the same way that Yoko Ono was not always easily welcomed in the pop music world, he felt he also was not always welcomed in the avant-garde scene, when he performed with her.
Earlier when interviewer Hugh Curry was preparing his questions on the way to the studio he asked me if I had any question to ask John Lennon because he needed one more question! I thought because John Lennon and Yoko Ono were involved with a number of art forms, clearly music, but also Lennon writing and drawing for two books, visual art, conceptional art (before its time) and avant-garde performance art, so I suggested Hugh Curry ask John Lennon what kind of artist he was? When asked, John Lennon said: "I do not see any difference between doing different types of art. Do you!"
At the end of the interview Peter Sellers who happened to be filming in another part of Twickenham Studios, popped his head tentatively in through the studio door to see the Beatles. John Lennon on noticing Sellers, welcoming him in a friendly manner "Hello Peter" and took a bemused Peter Sellers over to the other Beatles who were sitting and chatting in another area of the studio, while as always, on this project, being filmed.
All I can say is, that it was enormously inspiring seeing the Beatles working method and also especially so listening to what John Lennon and Yoko Ono had to say. Their attitude to art, moved way on. Earlier, we had been at a friend of John & Yoko's, where we had the opportunity to see a witty Yoko Ono piece of art: which was a sheet of glass suspended in mid air, a few feet back from the window, with words engraved on it "to see the sunrise through".
Richard Keith Wolff
Location: Twickenham, England
Photographer: Richard Keith Wolff