Photographer and philanthropist Julian Lennon’s past couple of years have kept his schedule booked and the master melodist in his element whether in the studio, in front of or behind a camera, or supporting his charity’s efforts. As demonstrated on his latest album, Everything Changes, and in his documentary, Through The Picture Window, Lennon is as much a work in progress as is his art and is a man modest enough to know when to give in to the creative spirit, leaving only the best result with his fans and worthwhile causes. Curator for an exhibit commemorating The Beatles’ 50th anniversary of their first U.S. tour, Lennon’s eye for photocomposition brings a unique Beatles collection to the public at Morrison Hotel Gallery Feb. 7-28. For more on Lennon’s White Feather Foundation and what compels him, read on and visit julianlennon.com.
Hello Andrea. How are you?
Hello Julian. I’m well. And you?
I don’t know. (Laughs) I haven’t got a clue. I’m delirious; it’s been a long day. In brief, I’m heading off on a trip to Ethiopia and Kenya next week on behalf of my foundation and last week I had to have all the necessary jabs and shots, the likes of typhoid, hep A, and—what’s the killer?—Yellow Fever! Yes, that’s it! That’s the one that’s kept me in the dark all week! Oh my God. Today is the first day I’ve felt normal, I kid you not. It’s been about a week now and there were some moments where I couldn’t get out of bed. It felt like I’d been hit by a truck, seriously. Every muscle and every inch of me felt like I’d really been in a car crash. It was incredible. And a 12-hour fever, that was a joy. So, bear with me. I’m coming out the other side of the tunnel right now so you’re getting me at a good time.
An ounce of prevention, right?
Oh wow, this is true. If this is a sample of what these diseases are like I could only imagine how horrific the real deal is. Horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. Anyway, so there we are.
I have other questions for you but, since you mentioned your foundation, I’d like to talk a bit more about that. What takes you to Ethiopia and Kenya?
I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Jeffrey Sachs in New York last year who’s doing The Millennium Project in Kenya, which is another thing I latched onto last minute. Initially I was heading out to Ethiopia because my foundation had done a water campaign with a great organization called charity: water who I think are phenomenal and I think have done some incredible, incredible work.
So last year we’d done the water campaigns because  was deemed the Year of Water by the UN. We made a lot of money and set up new clean water wells in many, many locations. I decided, after meeting Scott [Harrison, charity: water CEO] last year in his offices in New York and hearing that they take about four trips a year where they take groups of people out to the sites, that the only one that I knew I had a clear spot for was this trip coming up at the beginning of February. Normally they take groups of 30, 40 people sometimes but this was just about six or eight, Scott and his wife and one or two others. I thought, well, this would be much more my cup of tea. I’ve actually never done anything like this before. I’ve never gone on the ground. I figured that it was one of those things I needed to do in life. And I believe it will be a life-changing experience for me. Not to namedrop, but I’m quite close with Bono occasionally and I mentioned I was going. He said, “Jules, Ethiopia was what turned my life around, what changed me into the man I am today in putting RED and the One Campaign together.” I told him that was good to know because I have a sense that that’s going to be a driving force behind me from this point on.
So it’s going to be an experience and a half but I think at 50 I’ve done, pretty much, most other things and I can really support my foundation by getting on the ground and seeing the reality of the situation. Also, not just as a photographer, but for me personally. I really wanted to get in on this to do some editorial photography and also some artistic stuff of the people who are incredibly beautiful, the landscape which is incredibly beautiful and put either a book or an exhibition together on behalf of the foundation too, or auction off for the charities involved. Again, a life-changing experience that I think will push me even further toward more humanitarian, environmental goals and aiding those issues in the future. Without question, I sense that in me.
Of course, I want to ask about the exhibit you curated for Morrison Hotel Gallery. This is a huge time in Beatles history, how might the exhibit offer something more unique than other tributes to the band’s legacy?
Well, let me see here. I’ll do a little roundabout. So there were talks about the whole Grammy thing, being involved or being part of that. It was all a bit mad and trying to get information out of that scenario was like blood from a stone. Who’s playing what, everybody was keeping schtum about who’s doing this, that, and the other. And I live in Europe anyway, not that I can’t get on a plane, but it was like if I’m going to be involved in any way, shape or form then I need to come out there for rehearsals. Like I said, blood from a stone.
At the end of it I said, “You know what, I’m just gonna wish you all well. Have a great time. I love you dearly, but uh…” Another thing I wanted to do was stand in the audience, you know, clapping with the audience (laughs), watching other people sing Beatles songs (laughs)? For me it would be Celebs Do Beatles Karaoke Night. I don’t need to see that (laughs). I’m not being rude. That whole thing is not my cup of tea. I’m just not wired that way. Again, I wish them well. I just think events like that can be—not saying that it is because I haven’t seen the performances yet—can be a little on the cheese factor side. I prefer to know The Beatles as they were, when they were. There can never be a reunion anyway so I just thought I’ll send them my love, wish them well, hope they have a great time.
Prior to that, Timothy White, a dear, dear friend of mine who’d done my second and third album covers and also was the one that curated my first exhibition at Morrison Hotel Gallery, got me into photography. I’ve since gone on to do many projects, events, and shows with this group. Now, Timothy has become one of the partners in the group. Last year alone I think I did anywhere between three and five projects or exhibitions with them in New York, L.A., and popped up in Miami for a bit. I just thought, because I’m much more focused and my passion, first and foremost these days, is much more aligned with photography that something like this could work really nicely and would be much more sentimental to me on so many levels, not only with my association with Dad and The Beatles and being the son, but with being a photographer and artist. I just thought, what a nice and much more beautiful and humble way to approach this than joining the circus, so to speak.
There were hundreds of photographs to look through, so many that I’d never, ever seen. So I took it onboard and thought this would be such a beautiful thing to do. Just to find the images that, to me, were very unique and special that were able to tell me a story. I was able to look at their faces, look at their eyes in those images and know exactly what they were thinking and feeling at that moment in time. So I went on my gut feeling. It took a lot of time because there were so many great shots. It was not about the technical aspects of any of the photography, it was purely driven on what I saw emotionally as a son, as a man, and as a photographer trying to capture that moment and bring it forward to my life these days.
I agree with you. The pictures I saw were special and wonderful in their rarity.
I think so too. There were some that had similarities but there are a couple there that I’ve just never seen before. I thought, wow, such a great moment, such a great moment. This makes me more than happy. And to be able to come at it from this angle, from a different place entirely from everybody else and just do my own thing with these photographs is, for me, more than special, more than enough from my perspective as my version of a tribute to them.
Lastly, let’s talk about your latest album, your app, and the documentary. What I took from the documentary is that there seems to be something compelling you to compose, whether it’s music or photography. Why do you think that urge is so persistent?
(Laughs) I often question myself on that one, too. I guess, because I’ve had quite a few years off here and there and moments of reflection and trying to find oneself, to a degree it’s all about pride and purpose in life. I can’t just sit back and do nothing and that goes for every aspect of my life. It’s like, I can’t sit on a beach. I can’t do that. (Laughs) I would love to be able to lie down and not do something but I’ve just become, over the years, one of those people that feel the need within to produce, to create, to experience, to share. Without it I’d be a very unhappy person. It’s my version of an artist’s way of relating and being able to have a conversation with people. There’s got to be purpose in life for me, otherwise what is the point?
I feel I’m fortunate that I’ve found a good many levels there, on the creative front. Music, photography, documentary making, the charity and foundation. That’s a busy life as it is. I’ve been blessed that they’re all things I love to be a part of. It can get overwhelming at times, don’t get me wrong. The past two years, putting the projects that you see before you—the documentary, the 14 videos, the two albums, the app, and anything and everything else that’s gone along with that, the exhibitions I’ve been part of—it’s been full-on at times. It’s not like I can say it’s been an easy, floaty little ride. The underlying stress to make sure that all of this stuff actually happens and comes to the fray is a lot of work. I think things will be a little easier and smoother for me down the road now that I’ve got that bulk of work out the way for a minute so I can leave that with people and breathe for a little bit and get on with new projects which are already lined up for the next year. There’s not that much time off in my schedule at the moment, but that’s fine. It’s kind of what keeps me going.
Julian Lennon's photo exhibit commemorating The Beatles’ 50th anniversary of their first U.S. tour is being shown now through Feb. 28 at the Morrison Hotel Gallery. His new app, Through The Picture Window, is available now on the app store. For more details on the event go to morrisonhotelgallery.com, and for more on Lennon and his photography, music and charities, go to julianlennon.com.