John Lennon's Last Photo

John Lennon's Last Photo

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

It was the last photograph taken of John Lennon.  He and Yoko Ono were lying on the floor together in their apartment overlooking Central Park in New York.  A cozy, nurturing photo. 

You’ve captured our relationship exactly.
— John Lennon

Several hours later John was shot and killed on Dec. 8, 1980 by an unbalanced fan. 

Photographing John was Annie Leibovitz’s first important assignment from Rolling Stone magazine in 1970.  Founding editor Jann Wenner was headed to New York to interview John and Annie talked Jann into letting her tag along. 

She convinced the editor she would be cheaper than anyone else and was able to fly youth fare and stay with friends.  Afterwards Yoko told the photographer she was surprised Jann would allow such a young kid to photograph such famous people. 

John never treated Annie like a greenhorn.  She said he was honest and cooperative.  The photo shoot was the beginning of Annie’s journey with a camera into the world of the famous.

When they returned to San Francisco Jann chose a photo of John for the Jan. 21, 1971 cover that Annie shot.  She said John seemed to be staring at her as she clicked the shutter that day.    

Ten years later Annie was back.  John and Yoko recently released their “Double Fantasy” album.  Annie was there photographing them for Rolling Stone in early December of 1980. 

She returned to their apartment a few days later with an idea.  She had been thinking about how couples snuggle in bed and suggested John and Yoko pose nude in an embrace.  John took his clothes off for some of the shoot.  Yoko declined.

Annie took the photo of the couple embracing and presented it to them. 

“You’ve captured our relationship exactly,” John said. 

Annie promised John both he and Yoko would make the Rolling Stone cover.  Nobody, she said, wanted Yoko on the magazine cover.  John was insistent. 

The three of them were planning to get together later to go over the transparencies.  The meeting never took place.  On the way home from a recording session that evening John was murdered.  

“The picture looks like a last kiss now,” Annie later said.  The naked version of John curled around and kissing a clothed Ono, became the cover for Rolling Stone magazine’s tribute to him.

The American Society of Magazine Editors in 2005 named the photo the best magazine cover in the past 40 years.   

Annie has been photographing famous people for decades.  She has shot everyone from a very pregnant and nude Demi Moore to Whoopi Goldberg in a tub of milk. 

It isn’t so much who Annie photographs as is it is how she photographs people that makes her work distinctive.  Annie’s memorable and unique take on celebrities has turned her into a celebrity too.

Her portraits have appeared in Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and in ad campaigns for American Express and the Gap.

On Oct. 19, Swann Auction Galleries featured the clothed photo version of John and Yoko in its Fine Photographs & Select Photobooks sale.  The 12 inch square, signed in ink photograph, sold for $15,600.

Here are current values for other important photographers sold in the auction.

Photographs

Richard Avedon; Harvey Lichtenstein; silver print; 22 inches by 17 ¼ inches; signed; printed 2000;  $2,280.

Richard Avedon; Lena Horne and Lenny Hayton; silver print; 14 inches by 5 ½ inches; signed; 1956;  $3,600.

Alfred Eisenstaedt; Albert Einstein, Princeton, New Jersey; silver print; signed; printed 1994; 11 ¾ inches by 9 inches;  $4,560.

Robert Doisneau; portrait portfolio; 15 notable images; Picasso pictured; silver prints; 15 ½ inches by 12 ½ inches approximate; printed 1984;  $10,200.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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