Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly said that John Lennon and Yoko Ono hired Allan Tannenbaum to take photos of them. Tannenbaum was on assignment for SoHo Weekly News when he began photographing them.
Arts Beat

At Govinda, John and Yoko (And Chris and Annie)

One of Allan Tannenbaum's photos of John Lennon and Yoko Ono now on display at Govinda Gallery.
One of Allan Tannenbaum's photos of John Lennon and Yoko Ono now on display at Govinda Gallery. (By Allan Tannenbaum)
By Rachel Beckman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2007

Last week, Govinda Gallery owner Chris Murray threaded through the crowd at the opening reception for Annie Leibovitz's exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. He carried an oversize book titled "John & Yoko: A New York Love Story" under his arm. Leibovitz, of course, had taken the most famous John and Yoko photo ever, for Rolling Stone in 1980. Murray hadn't seen Leibovitz in years, but he sees a faded handwritten note from her every day in his office at Govinda in Georgetown.

"Chris -- I'd do anything for you. Love, Annie Leibovitz."

When he finally found Leibovitz at the reception, Murray hugged her and handed her the book. He told her that it had been published just that day, Oct. 9, which is also Lennon's birthday. She thanked him for the gift and they chatted until the crowd whisked her away.

Murray, who has owned Govinda for 32 years, calls it a "full circle" moment.

The book accompanies the current exhibition at Govinda: photographs of Lennon and Ono by New York photojournalist Allan Tannenbaum, taken around the time of Lennon's death. But the link connecting Murray, Leibovitz, Lennon and Ono is more substantial than the book and the exhibition.

Leibovitz's 1984 solo show at Govinda was her first in Washington and second in an art gallery. At that exhibition, Murray purchased the Leibovitz photograph that ran on the cover of Rolling Stone, the one of a nude Lennon curled up against his wife. It was taken on Dec. 8, 1980, the day Lennon was killed.

The Tannenbaum photos, now on display at Govinda, include a series taken in November 1980 of Lennon and Ono on a stroll through Central Park. The bare trees and overcast weather provided a crisp moodiness to the portraits.

Lennon and Ono had hired Tannenbaum to shoot photographs for their video of the song "(Just Like) Starting Over." Lennon liked him because he "captured Yoko's beauty," Tannenbaum says. For a later shoot, the couple wore Japanese kimonos, then stripped and posed naked in bed, where they pretended to make love.

A few weeks later Lennon was gone. Tannenbaum took pictures of Ono alone in Central Park.

"It was very difficult to see her like that," he says. "In the other photos, you see the love, and in these you see the loneliness and the grief. I feel the pain in my own body just thinking about it."

Tannenbaum, 62, continues his work as a photojournalist and still photographs Ono. Last week, he traveled to Reykjavik, Iceland, to take pictures of Ono's new art installation, the Imagine Peace Tower, a huge beam of light dedicated to Lennon. The tower is an extension of Ono's "Wish Trees," several of which she installed in Washington in April. Hundreds of Washingtonians tied small pieces of paper expressing wishes to the branches of cherry trees. The wishes are now in Reykjavik in small capsules at the base of the tower.

Murray, 59, has championed rock photography in his gallery for more than two decades. But in the past five years, he has published 10 books under an imprint of Random House called Insight Editions. Elvis Presley, Patti Smith and Jerry Garcia have all gotten the Govinda treatment.

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