Julian Lennon Shares Insight Into ‘Cycle’ Photography Exhibit (INTERVIEW)

 Julian Lennon may have been born into a house of music but his branches of interest spread much further out. In fact, his passions for photography and philanthropy are so deep in his soul that they are what fuel his fires today. So much so, that when creativity is sparking he charges full-speed ahead. “Sometimes when there’s such a lot of work I suffer from insomnia. So I’m exhausted going to bed and then I start thinking about the next day/week/month and the mind doesn’t turn off,” Lennon told me during our recent interview.

On September 9th, Lennon’s latest photography exhibition opened at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles. Titled , it explores the cycle of life along the South China Seas. Faces emerge from the canvases like bolts of lightning while a temple stands strong against a backdrop of clouds in turmoil. Striking images that tell stories that may be different for each viewer. And Lennon likes it that way.

The first son of John Lennon and first wife Cynthia, Julian was born in the early, crazy days of Beatlemania, he was a cherubic face hidden away from the insanity. Of course later  “Hey Jude” evolved from “Hey Jules”, a song Paul McCartney wrote to comfort Julian, during his parents’ divorce. In his twenties, Julian made some records and had two big singles himself with “Valotte” and “Too Late For Goodbyes.” But other interests began to tug at him stronger – film, documentaries, photography, all highly stimulating visual arts, music for a different sense.

In 2009, Julian Lennon started the White Feather Foundation to “do good and give back,” to make the world a better place, provide clean water, teach others how to take care of the planet and all the people on it.

The following year, Lennon had his first photographic exhibit featuring U2 and landscapes that were like watercolor paintings. He thrived in post-production editing, allowing the photograph to dictate the enhancements. The more he traveled, the more he shot, the more his eye picked up on the symphonies of everyday life – the people, their work, their love, their struggles. And that is what we focused on during my interview with Lennon – what he sees, what he feels, behind the camera. With Cycle running till October 17th, there is plenty of time to stop by the gallery and spend a few hours absorbing his stories and how he chooses to tell them.


Hi Julian, how are you today?

I’m okay, thank you very much. Just my usual tired self but apart from that I’m all good.

You have something really wonderful going on right now in your life so why don’t you please tell us more about your exhibit and how it all came together.

Well, the Cycle exhibit, it’s been six months in the making. It was around the same time as my birthday and the first year anniversary of my mother’s passing, and I thought, well, I didn’t want to stay at home and be miserable. I’d had this peculiar invitation to go and join some friends, and the few people I didn’t know, on a trip, on this little cruise, around the South China Seas. And I thought, well, why not. Let me push myself. I’ve never been to that part of the world really. I’ve flown around and nearby with work but never just to experience it. And I was there for ten days, visiting countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Borneo. Then on the way home I stopped by in Bali, cause I had a friend there. I took my camera, and the thing was, that just previous to that I’d been offered a gig to do a show, an exhibition with Leica. So I thought this could be the perfect opportunity. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to shoot because I didn’t know what to expect (laughs).

In fact, the problem was, I overshot the whole thing. So I ended up taking four thousand pictures, which I literally had spent the last six months editing down to a show of fifty or fifty-one, because there was a deadline so the pressure was on and that’s a heck of a lot of pictures to edit (laughs). It was literally day and night, night and day. I’d see all my friends having a lovely summer. I’d see people going out for the weekends, my friends coming and going, and I’m going, “I can’t, I just can’t do it. If I go out, I’m screwed. That would be another day off work that I can be doing.” So it was a long, long process but the journey itself was something I can’t even tell you how much I enjoyed it and the new friends that I made. It just makes me want to get out there and do more.

I finished a show, the previous show of mine was called Horizon, which was about previous trips I’d made out to Ethiopia and Kenya and on another occasion, down to Columbia to work with indigenous tribes, because I have a foundation called The White Feather Foundation and what we do is partner with local NGO’s and try and help the people there, the locals and their country, who don’t have either clean water or don’t have health and education, and we try and raise funds and donations so we can do all of those things. And what that enables me to do is visit these places for the first time in my life and experience things one on one, hand to hand, which is what happened this time round too. Because there was no specific idea of what the exhibition was to be, it was only through the process of editing that I actually found what I was looking for, which for me, was that this was about the cycle of life of people that live on the border of the South China Seas. And that’s from the good, the bad to the ugly, and a few things in-between. So basically that’s the backstory to the Leica exhibition and we’re in talks about the exhibition traveling to some of their other galleries and locations. I couldn’t be more than happy with how things have been going.


To you, why do the black & white tones capture what you’re trying to say better than color?

I guess I find that color sometimes is more distracting. I find black & white draws you in with a more empathetic view to the world. It’s more textured to me, there’s more depth to it to me, it’s more emotive to me. I actually only have a number of photographs from other artists in my home and 90% of them are all black & white. It’s just what draws me in, more than a color picture. So for me, I feel that that’s what translates what I’m seeing better for the viewer.

What speaks to you louder – faces or the spirit of an inanimate object or a landscape?

I don’t think you can have a favorite. I think that’s almost an impossible question to answer because there’s certain beauty and culture and history within a landscape just as much as a face. A face can be war torn and ragged and you can see their love and their life in their eyes; as you can with the landscape, with what’s happened to the world that we live in. So I think they are equally as important.

You said about a photo you took of Bono that it changed your way of thinking as a photographer – how so, what were you thinking before?

You know, I never really considered myself a photographer and I still don’t really. I use the apparatus to capture an image. But let me tell you, I couldn’t tell you what goes on inside of those bloody machines (laughs). It’s the same with music for me. I play music by ear and I have no technical ability but I go with what I feel and what makes sense to me, organically and naturally. So the same thing happens with me with the camera.

And what happened was, when I first started taking pictures, I looked at them and I went, “These are terrible! They look like holiday snaps (laughs).” I’m shooting U2 and Bono and they look like crap to me.


I’m sure they weren’t

They were, they were! They looked terrible! They looked just like holiday snaps and I’m going, “This is no good!” I was actually laying on the floor while Bono was sitting there, that one main shot that I love, one of my favorites of him, which is called “Someone To Look Up To,” which has a picture of my dad in the background, who is someone that he admired, and I admired too. But I was laying on the floor and I just saw the angle was different and the angle created the picture more than I can even tell you. I can’t even describe it but it just gave me another perspective to view life from, to view this image from. So I never wanted to take another picture sort of head-on again as such. I always wanted to find something a little more quirky or interesting about an image. So that’s kind of where I’ve gone with this. Again, it’s having the camera to be able to translate what I’m seeing onto a piece of photographic paper.

But I guess my forte, if anything at all, is that I’m also a self-taught editor. So a lot of my work, 90% in fact, probably comes in post, post-production, post-editing. Even though I’ve taken a picture, I will edit that picture, I will possibly crop it, I will desaturate it. Each collection has it’s own look as well for everything I’ve ever done. So the pictures kind of tell me what to do in the weirdest of ways.

It’s like when I did the collection of Princess Charlene, just before she was getting married [2011]. Now, they were originally all color pictures and I just wasn’t seeing it. And I came back just before the wedding to look at the edits and I said, “I don’t think I’ve got anything here. I really don’t.” And I was cursing myself. Then there was this one picture where she was smiling and laughing and she had a glass of champagne in her hand. But she said, “Jules, whatever you do, don’t show people that I’m having a cigarette or having a glass of champagne.” I said, “Well, how am I going to deal with this?” So I edited out any cigarettes and of course I made this shot with her with her champagne into a black & white and thought, “Oh my God, this has been talking to me all along. How come I didn’t realize I should have been thinking Grace Kelly, black & white, 1950’s.” So from that point, I edited the whole collection of her with that in mind so that it looked like it was a classic 1950’s photo shoot. And that was all created back at my home in front of my computer after the fact. And that’s generally what happens. I take what I see, I take it home, I work on it, it speaks to me and then I find what I’m looking for. It’s all a bit mad really but it seems to work.

What is your next photography challenge?

Oh God, I have no idea (laughs). There’s a few things lined up. In fact, I was supposed to be going to Nepal because my foundation worked with another organization called Music For Relief with the Linkin Park boys and when the earthquake hit a year ago we managed to raise a hundred thousand for that, for them, and we were going to go there next month but unfortunately that’s been postponed till next year. That was on the cards but now I may actually get a few weeks off. Who knows – HA HA (laughs). We’ll see.


Getting back to your exhibit, there is a photograph where it looks like you’re on a cliff and there’re clouds and there looks to be a little pagoda. It’s beautiful and I wanted to ask you about that one in particular.

Oh yeah, that’s called “Endless Love” and that was a temple in Bali and that was facing me facing East, facing the sun. It is a very famous, old, old, old, old temple. I don’t even know when it dates back to, just centuries upon centuries. But if you had actually seen what was behind me when I took that shot, it was about a thousand tourists. It’s become a tourist destination, sadly, like most landmarks in Bali, which is a really, really sad state of affairs. I was there twenty years ago and I was performing, I was on tour, and it’s now turned into a commercial zoo on crack, which I find is really sad. I mean, there are still elements to the north, east and west but the main areas in some of those beautiful, beautiful temples are now literally just tourist spots with coaches of hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands and thousands, every day trampling all over that stuff. I’m sad to say I was one of them but at least I managed to capture a moment in time that will forever live with me, especially in the photograph.

How high up were you?

That’s pretty high up, a couple hundred feet at least, minimum; maybe a thousand feet up. I’m not sure.

So what happens next for you?

Well, there are projects on the horizon but it will all depend on how they organically and time-wise come together. That’s how it works with me these days. I did everything by the clock way too much in the past (laughs) and I’m a slightly older gentleman now and I’d like to try, if I can, to enjoy the process of work as much as I can. It’s still work, no question about it. So the idea is to go with my heart and my gut on projects that are presented to me in the future. And literally I could be offered one thing one day and that’ll change within two days and I’ll be going to Moscow or I’ll be going to Africa again or South America. It literally is sometimes a drop of a hat.


Photos by Julian Lennon


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13 Responses

  1. `;)*♡*o*x*O*X*O*X*♡*

  2. Congratulaciones great interview about Julian L. I think is not easy to be the son of Lennon but his work is great and I like
    the photos about all social people.
    Thank you
    Ing Jorge Salas from Costa Rica

  3. Great work Julian! Your Mom And Dad I’m sure are proud! You’ve been through a lot and glad to see you came out on the other side OK. Peace and love “Jules”.

  4. Liked Julian’s work. He looks just like his old man — they can’t take that away from you. I also think Julian is multi-talented, including music. I wish him nothing but good.

  5. Hey Julian; I am glad to hear you found your spot. Your likeness with your father is uncanny. He is my hero and it blew me away on that horrific day. Pax – Amor Franko

  6. Dear Mr. Lennon
    I know your father and mother are very proud of you.
    I lost my father 10 years ago this month. I was the family
    member caregiver for 17 months with him and now I’m with my
    mother. Believe me when I say ” Your father and mother never
    left, they’re still here with you. Your Father’s music will live on

    A big fan Gus

  7. That’s great that Julian has paved his own path and is doing what he loves to do. Unlike the celebrity kids today who have no talent but capitalize on their parents’ name and fame (too many to name or care to remember).

  8. The photo you took from the ridge with the temple off to the side and the reflecting sun on on the water and the clouds is a beautiful capture of a moment in time. Did you take a color shot of that view from where you were positioned before the image dissipated? Probably not. You would have had to have a separate camera with color film in it with you. This is one I wish was captured in color as well as black and white.

    With what you have had to deal with in your life, you come off as exceedingly humble, emotionally stable, objective and sincere in your efforts to be of benefit to the welfare of humanity and its environment. I wish you contentment and gratification in all of your life’s endeavors. Your photography captures what exists in a present moment. It does not and cannot portray why what exists and why what is evident to happen in the future. What is sad is that population growth changes the landscape in a negative way by requiring access to more and limited resources. What I mean by sad, is, the day will come when population growth will be controlled by, most likely, sinister forces because there is only a limited amount of natural resources to sustain a maximum limit of population. It is something to be examined and maybe put you on another worthwhile project that will present a way to handle the inevitable in a humane way. Music and writing is an avenue that can present a civilized way of approaching these concerns humanely. I don’t know how photography can, but maybe you are gifted enough to use photography to handle the eventualities of the future in a sane way.

    I wish you the best of everything from this day forward. You are a lot more than some talented and famous person’s son.

    In all sincerity,
    Darrel J. Pattison
    September 26, 2016.

  9. Great photography, Jules!!! Love your work, both photographic and musical. Maybe you can come to New Orleans sometime to take some photos of my home town? There are many interesting areas to shoot.

    ~On a side note, I want to say that I’m a personal friend of the interviewer, Leslie Michele Derrough——Great interview, Michele!! Love reading your reviews and interviews!

  10. Am SO looking forward to catching the exhibit here in LA! Julian, congrats on all your artistic success – you are truly a renaissance man! Peace and love to you and your family always…you have many, many people around the world who love you!

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