I have always felt that I have observed life, in a different way than others; probably because my life has been very different than most. Music has always been one creative outlet for me, but now I’m happy to add another one too, that being photography. —Julian Lennon
A photographer, etymologically speaking, is one who “writes” (graphe) with “light” (photos). When this authorship with light occurs instinctively as a natural correspondence of a deep inner self, the outcome is such that the viewer can’t be anything but enraptured in contemplation, a qual-ity that makes some works of art timeless. Clive Bell, the famous art critic from the nineteenth century once said, “We have no other means of recognizing a work of art than our feeling for it,” a feeling he calls “aesthetic exaltation.” Were you to experience the photographs exhibited in September at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City, I’m quite sure you’d feel that exaltation Bell refers to.
The “author” of these photographs is none other than Julian Lennon, the tremendously versatile artist who, after winning accolades for his many musical achievements, picked up a camera one day and started taking pictures with a depth and clarity that make him seem like a lifelong professional photographer. The opportunity of working with Lennon to produce his works for his debut photographic exhibition, Timeless, allowed me a glimpse into the mind of a rare artist whose poetic dexterity across genres as different as music and photography render him a true renaissance man.
Having worked with as many celebrity photographers as I have over the last 45 years, I can surely attest to one thing—under the constant scru-tiny of the media, it’s extremely difficult for an artist to create work that can express emotions simply and effort-lessly. The subliminal fear of being judged by the entire world robs most wonderful artists of their unique voice, and often the work that’s produced becomes purely technical, devoid of an aesthetic depth. The first time I saw Lennon’s works, I was surprised at the originality of his images. It’s as if he were able to imprint his heart onto every single picture, arresting viewers in an intimate conversation with himself through the photographs.
Each photograph in Timeless communicates a profoundly personal story. His pictorial landscapes and cloudscapes, which are like poetic vignettes of an emotionally powerful life, and portraits that seamlessly connect the viewer to the soul of the subject as if the camera were absent, paint a wonderful portrait of Lennon’s photographic mind.
Timothy White, the great portrait photographer was an early enthusiast of Lennon’s photographs and encouraged him to develop a full repertoire for a show. Commenting on their relationship as curator-artist, Lennon told me that he always enjoyed taking pictures and took shots over the years on tours around the world, “but it was only after a meeting with photographer Timothy White last year, that made me take my work seriously. He was the one that suggested I do an exhibition, which I thought was a crazy idea at first, but after working through all of the images I had, I began to see that that could be a possibility, with the right guidance.”
Lennon is truly passionate about photography. He carries his camera with him “99.9%” of the time. He shoots with a mix of Leica X1, Leica D-Lux 4, Canon EOS 5D Mark II cameras. He’s particularly drawn to clouds, and his schedule naturally puts him close to his favorite view at 35,000 feet very frequently. “I rarely sleep on planes and have seen most movies available, and have always enjoyed dawn, dusk and clouds… So whenever I see something that looks beautiful, naturally, I’m drawn to taking a few pictures. I could honestly do a whole collection on clouds. There’s a peace and a calmness. Up there, time stands still for a minute or two. It’s a chance to breathe, to think for a moment, but also a time to dream and let go.”
In an interview with Salon almost a decade ago, Lennon made a poignant comment on the success of the song “Hey Jude,” that Paul McCartney wrote for him when he was five years old. He said, “A song written out of pure emotion always wins out. It wasn’t necessarily a commercial song, by any standard. It was about a person and a life and a story.” This deep understanding of “pure emotion” is precisely what underlies Lennon’s work as a visual artist. Because he shoots with this emotion as his “lens,” his photographs are infused with sentiment, not just technique. Timothy White describes one of his favorite photographs in the show, “Floating Clouds” as “soft and ethereal and otherworldly.”
Judging from the compositions, nuanced tonality, beauty and symbolism in all his pictures, it’s hard to imagine that photography isn’t something Lennon was professionally trained in. He grew up painting and drawing but turned to photography as an “alternative way to capture ideas and images, or put thoughts and feeling into a visual medium.” Responding to my curiosity about the influence of his musical sensibilities on his visual ones, Lennon said, “For me, it’s about the pure essence of something you either hear or see. It’s about the truth in many ways. Capturing a moment in time, a thought, a feeling, an emotion. It’s translating one’s thoughts, visions and feeling to others, in the hope that they may understand you and/or your world just that little bit more.” This expression of “truth” holds the secret to Lennon’s stunning photographs.
Walking through Duggal’s behind-the-scenes processes that transform digital images into fine-art prints, Lennon was able to see the various printing options and substrate choices for his photographs. Choosing archi-val giclee prints at the end, he seemed happy to have connected with the production side of digital photography—”I never knew how complicated the process of printing professionally really was! To have to check and recheck until all aspects are just right. To test different paper for different themes/styles, etc. I guess I can relate musically to the process more than anything. It’s a question of making sure all of the right elements come together, in just the right way, so that the final result is, hopefully, a thing of beauty. And without question, Duggal was one of those elements. It was a pleasure working with them, and hopefully we’ll continue to do so in the years to come.”