A Final Record
By JACK MITCHELL
TWENTY-FIVE years ago today, John Lennon was shot and killed outside his apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This previously unpublished photograph was taken a little more than a month before his death.
Back in the 70's and 80's, I took many pictures of people in the arts, and I had been asked by The Times to photograph Lennon and Yoko Ono for a story about their new album, "Double Fantasy."
The session was to take place in my studio on East 74th Street on Sunday, Nov. 2, at 8 p.m. The couple, who had not been in a photography studio for five years, had insisted that I be alone - with no assistant, or anyone else, in my studio during the session. I put up a gray seamless backdrop because I had no idea what they would be wearing.
The two arrived about 15 minutes late, rang my buzzer and walked up to my second-floor studio. They were wearing sweaters, and they were by themselves.
In an effort to gauge how much time I was going to have, I asked John if this was a stop en route to dinner. He replied, laughing: "Dinner? I've not had breakfast yet!"
When we started the shoot, John and Yoko both kept their glasses on - she was wearing dark sunglasses and he had on tinted lenses. After four long-shot takes, I asked that the glasses be removed. I explained that I wanted to take some tight close-ups and needed to show their eyes.
They agreed - and from that point on the photographing went easily. They were both relaxed and agreeable to the poses I suggested. John was especially spontaneous and loose. He seemed to be having fun and laughed a lot.
During breaks John looked at the pictures hanging on the studio walls, admiring especially some portraits I'd done recently of Meryl Streep. He said he was a Meryl Streep groupie. He also liked, and petted, my ginger studio cat, Red.
It was apparent that John and Yoko were enjoying being photographed and were in no hurry to leave. But at 10:45 p.m., with eight rolls of black-and-white film and a half roll of color film shot, I suggested we had more than enough pictures and should stop.
I was scheduled to process the black-and-white rolls by midnight so a photo editor from the Times could pick up the contact sheets. But I was well over an hour late - largely because the couple stayed a while after the shoot.
John mentioned how comfortable he was in my simple, home-like studio and asked if he and Yoko could come back after the first of the year to do a personal sitting. (I said yes.) Then they took the time to draw a self-caricature. John drew himself first, then Yoko drew her face adjacent to his. They both signed it. We never discussed music.
After a photograph from the shoot was published in The Times on Nov. 9, Yoko telephoned to ask if she and John could use the picture on their 1980 Christmas card. I gladly gave permission. Given what happened on Dec. 8, I'm not sure if the card was ever produced.
Over the years, many Lennon fans have asked why I didn't take any solo pictures of John. My reply has always been this: First, my assignment was to photograph John and Yoko together. And second, they were just so together that it simply never occurred to me.