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Julian Lennon on U2's The Edge and Art Basel: "Cakes and Sex? I'm Up For It"

Julian Lennon, Someone To Look Up To
Julian Lennon, Someone To Look Up To
courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

When Julian Lennon began photographing U2, he was granted unusually intimate access and took quite a few images.

"Then I went to look at them," Lennon told Cultist at the Morrison Hotel gallery's Art Basel popup at the Dream Hotel. "And I went, 'Shit. They look like fucking holiday photos.'

"I've got the opportunity here with U2 and I'm shooting shit. And that's where I was, I'd literally sat on the floor after a session with Bono, and that's when I took the shot. I knew immediately it was the one shot I needed."

The resultant shot (seen above), Someone to Look Up To, shows Bono in the studio, a photo of a young John Lennon aligned above his head.

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Bob Gruen, John Lennon contact sheet - NYC, 1974
Bob Gruen, John Lennon contact sheet - NYC, 1974
courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

"It's about finding a moment," Lennon said. "Not only Bono, but for dad and for both of them."

Morrison Hotel specializes in music photography and represents legends of the field including Bob Gruen (that photo of John Lennon in the New York City tank top is his), Janette Beckmann and Jim Marshall. Starting Grammy weekend, Morrison Hotel will be expanding from its New York City location and opening a permanent gallery in the Sunset Marquis hotel in Los Angeles.

"The work we show," gallery co-owner Peter Blachley said, "it will never be duplicated. It doesn't mean we're not acquiring new photographers. We have Clay Patrick McBride, who shot Kanye West and Jay-Z together in an homage to John and Robert Kennedy. But it's harder today to get that kind of access."

His partner, Rich Horowitz, added, "Everyone should be able to take their camera photos during a show. But what we have is access. Only that one photographer has the spot behind that amp stack. Joni and Graham in the back of a car driving up to Big Bear? That kind of access will never be granted again. It's a lost art."


Mick Rock, David Bowie and Mick Ronson - Train to Aberdeen, 1973
Mick Rock, David Bowie and Mick Ronson - Train to Aberdeen, 1973
courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

But access is certainly something Julian Lennon has.

"I've talked to the U2 boys to ask when I can release all of these," he said. "I'd very much like to put a book together but they've asked me to hold back. They're considering using the images for their artwork on the new album. It should be out mid to late next year."

Lennon has spent the last few years refining his photographic practice under the tutelage of photographer and Morrison Hotel partner Timothy White.

"I was doing a charity single for lupus because my dear friend Lucy passed away from it," Lennon said. "This is Lucy of 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.' When I was 3 years old, I brought a painting I'd made home to dad of Lucy, in the sky with diamonds and honestly, that's where it came from."

White, who had long worked with Julian Lennon and had done the cover art for his third album, shot the photos for the single. During downtime, Lennon was sifting through his own photography.

"I'd be on the computer, editing photos on the side. Getting rid of the crap and keeping the good ones. Timothy said, 'You should do something with them. I'll do it with you.'"

Timothy White, Ray Charles - Culver City, CA - 1991
Timothy White, Ray Charles - Culver City, CA - 1991
courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

At the time, Lennon's images were just "fly-on-the-wall stuff," portraits and landscapes. "Faces, culture, friends," he told us. "No one you would recognize."

White and Lennon spent a year going through nearly every photograph Lennon had taken in his lifetime. They narrowed these down to about three dozen pieces, about half being landscapes and half being his U2 images.

"I was waiting for the reviews on tenterhooks, waiting to see if I was crushed or liked. To my amazement, it was the landscapes and not the music photography that got the eyes of the reviewers. And I was aghast. Are you kidding me, going to that stuff?"

There's a layer of complication with the music photography stemming from Lennon's unique understanding of his subjects' position.

"I'm aware of the camera when I'm being photographed," he said. "I know how the light from that angle is going to look on my forehead. Like, I'm getting older, there's no powder, the hair is thinning. It's not my cup of tea."

Janette Beckmann, Run DMC - Hollis, Queens, NYC - 1984
Janette Beckmann, Run DMC - Hollis, Queens, NYC - 1984
courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

As such, Lennon is protective of his subjects.

"There are so many times that I say to myself, I wish I hadn't taken that shot. Sometimes you have to let it go. Yes it would have been a unique moment, but it's about a relationship.

"I was with Charlene Wittstock ten minutes before she became Princess of Monaco. There are shots there, she wouldn't have wanted out there and same with U2 boys. Shooting people in a bad light for a quick buck is a sad situation. When you're crapping on someone, the process is not about art but is about money."

Even so, the truth of a subject can never hide from the photographer's eye. With that in mind, we asked the question that common folk and kings alike have been asking for centuries: does the Edge ever take off that hat of his?

"Once in a blue moon," Lennon reported, his voice taking on the hushed gravity of a war correspondent. "I was at his birthday last year in Italy. It was a magnificent experience and the first time I saw him without it; he went swimming and you can't do that with a wooly hat."

And on a related gossipy note, one wonders about how intimate his image of Bono is, given that even in private, he is still wearing those welding goggles of his.

"Bono actually has a condition with his eyes," Lennon explained. "I don't know the exact issue but the brightness of the sun hurts them and it's a deteriorating issue. It's part of his image so in some senses, it was lucky but not really, of course. Maybe it's part of his process now and without the sunglasses, he can't be Bono."

Though Lennon was also exhibiting at Overture and Soho House, unlike his last visit to Art Basel in 2010, he hoped to be able to take in more of the city and the art on display. He seemed particularly intrigued by Peter Anton's Sugar and Gomorrah sex and candy roller coaster.

"That's truly bizarre," he said. "Cakes and sex. Okay. I'm up for it. I hope it's chocolate."

Julian Lennon's photography can be found at julianlennon-photography.com. For more from Morrison Hotel, visit morrisonhotelgallery.com.

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