Richard DiLello photographs John & Yoko at Tittenhurst in January 1970.
Apple's self-styled House Hippie Richard DiLello reminisces about his portraits of John & Yoko from January 1970.
The photographs of John & Yoko were taken at Tittenhurst Park in Ascot, Berkshire on January 31, 1970. John & Yoko had recently returned from a trip to Sweden where they had cut off their hair as a symbolic gesture of a new phase in their lives. And collectively they had a lot of hair. There was an immediate request from the media to get pictures of the Lennons sporting their new art school, boho look.
I was working in the Apple Press Office with Derek Taylor. Sometime in 1968 I traded a Vox amplifier for a friend’s Nikon F with a 50 millimeter lens and taught myself how to use it, after a fashion. I had a natural eye but I didn’t have a great deal of technical knowledge under my belt. Nonetheless, as the requests for a photo session with the Lennons continued to come in, I asked Derek Taylor, “Do you think John & Yoko would let me photograph them?”
He thought about it for two seconds. Then he rummaged around on his desk, held up a press clipping and said, “Go downstairs and give them (John & Yoko) this. As you’re on the way out, with your hand on the doorknob, turn around and ask them ‘Can I photograph you?'”
I followed the script. And they said, “Yes.”
A few days later one of the Apple chauffeurs drove me down to Tittenhurst Park on a frigid, grey day and I started snapping away.
The great thing about photographing the Lennons was their ease and comfort at being photographed. I also wasn’t a stranger, which helped. I didn’t need to give them much direction, because they were the directors of their own lives.
I shot most of the session in black and white Ilford film because it was a black and white world, but I knocked off half a roll of color on a backup camera with John & Yoko sitting on the steps of the “Sgt. Pepper” gypsy caravan that was on the property, because it was the only object on site that wasn’t black and white.
After the outdoor session we went inside and Yoko made lunch for us – a copious salad – and then we did some more stuff in the kitchen and upstairs in their bedroom as they were watching television.
It all felt very intimate and low-key, no pressure. The entire session was shot with available light, because I didn’t own a flash, or know how to use one.
A very young Julian Lennon was visiting that day with one of his friends and I got a few pictures of them as well.
The only standout memories I have of the Lennons are standout good memories, because there were no bad ones. They were always kind and decent to me, and I was just the kid in the office, and I always felt comfortable with them.
It was always exciting to be around John & Yoko. Even if they were just drinking a cup of tea and lighting a cigarette it felt like an event, an art happening.
The badly banged up Austin Maxi on the grounds of Tittenhurst Park was a souvenir of John & Yoko’s holiday in Scotland where John drove the car off the road in a distracted moment. As Derek Taylor told me – with great affection – “John was never much of a driver to begin with.” Rather than send the wreck to the junkyard John & Yoko turned it into a piece of conceptual art. Hey, they were John & Yoko!
When the Plastic Ono Band album was released, and I heard it for the first time, it made perfect sense in its blatantly anti-commercial roar. It was the album John Lennon was born to make in his post-Beatle life, it was the inevitable meeting the unavoidable. It was painful to listen to because it was the definition of “pain.”
There would have been no need for Primal Scream Therapy if there had been no primal wound to begin with – a young, sensitive boy abandoned by his mother and father, when he needed them most, as we all do. And then the damaged, discarded boy becomes the most famous musician in the world and everyone wants a piece of him. John’s three best friends and bandmates all came from intact, loving families. John didn’t. And he paid the price.
The POB album was revolutionary because no other musician of John Lennon’s stature in the twentieth century could have, or would have dared to open up and let all the screaming demons come raging out the way he did.
Not Dylan, not Leonard Cohen, not anyone.
That said, the album still swings. It’s still rock ‘n’ roll. It was proto-punk, proto-grunge, proto-everything confessional, which is the heart of all great music, and art.
All photographs by Richard DiLello, 1970 © Yoko Ono Lennon.