Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

November 22, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

John Lennon Photographer


  • Professional photographer David Spindel photographed John Lennon and Yoko Ono during a 1980 recording session at the Hit Factory in New York City. Some of his photographs appear in a new American Masters: LennoNYC premiering at 9PM on Eight/Arizona PBS. Spindel shares his photographs and memories of the experience.
Guests:
  • David Spindel - photographer
Category: The Arts

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Tonight at 9:00 on Eight, American Masters premieres a new film, "Lennon NYC." It focuses on John Lennon's life with his family in New York City in the 1970s. It also includes classic photographs from sessions, photographs taken by David Spindel, who now makes his home in Anthem. We're here to share some photographs in memory. We have a clip of film that opens with several of Spindel's photos.
(Brief clip from film)

I want just sashimi tuna. Just gimme that raw fish. ¶¶ ¶¶

Everybody, one, two, one, two, three, four. ¶¶ ¶¶

He was back in the studio doing what he loved. He was probably the happiest person in the world. 11 ¶¶ ¶¶

He's a little kid in a candy store just having a ball. And happy as hell to be singing again. We would be in the middle of a good take and he would break into a lyric and make everybody laugh, he would just do it.

Just really watch yourselves after coming out of the lav. I have to sing it faster the second time.

Ted Simons: And joining me now is David Spindel, the photographer who captured those classic images of John Lennon back in 1980, at the Hit Factory in New York City. Thank you so much for joining us, we appreciate it.

David Spindel: My pleasure.

Ted Simons: How did you get that gig?

David Spindel: To make a long story short, basically, my wife and I were designing a new home in Rockland County. The architect's wife-to-be wanted to be an agent for a photographer. Come in and I'll tell you all about it, how to do it. We spent about a week. She said, how do I find a photographer? I said, you can represent me. She called me up and said, my husband-to-be's brother got a job working with these "musicians" and they are looking for a photographer. They told me about you. I'm a studio photographer, I do still life and portraits. She said, you'll enjoy working with them. I said who? She said I can’t tell you. I worked with Kiss and a lot of other album covers. I put together an album photograph I figured for sure they wouldn't like. It's a shot of a white woman nursing a black baby. We love this guy, we want to hire him. How do I get out of this? I gave them a price no one in their right mind would pay. They agreed. How about a purchase order? The guy says, don't worry, they are good for the money. I said, who? Can't tell you. I didn't follow music, I didn't know who it could possibly be. I'm sitting there maybe an hour, I'm getting ticked off. An Asian woman walks out and I didn't know Yoko by sight. The first thing I would like is a group shot of everyone. She takes me into a room where I had my equipment. I said, how many people? She said 12 or 15. Excuse me, you can't fit that many in that room. I went back to get my equipment and he's lying on the floor getting a massage. The guy turns over and it's John Lennon. Him I knew. John says, I used to charge people a fee to watch me get a massage. I'm a kid from Brooklyn, you ain't going tell me that. Guess what, John, I charge people a fee to watch me move my equipment. He laughed and said, I think I'm going to like working with you.

Ted Simons: What was he like?

David Spindel: Unbelievable. He was just -- it's like we're talking. 13 There was no pretentiousness about him, just the guy next door, enjoye`d what had he did. The photographs have a unique kind of quality to them. I told him, John, you're going to be involved in recording. If I have a flash going off every two seconds, it's going to be a distraction. I shot everything in available light, which is kind of difficult because there wasn't a lot of light in the studio. I had film I brought for my strobes. Some of the shots, three in particular, really came out beautiful because I had to put my camera on the glass of the recording booth to hold it steady enough. There was no light. Those three shots got the motion of him in the recording booth moving, and those are the most precious shots of all.

Ted Simons: Do -- we have a shot of him at the audio board, which is a fantastic photograph.

David Spindel: He was just sort of daydreaming a little bit. Everyone loves that photograph.

Ted Simons: You were pretty much invisible, weren't you?

David Spindel: Yeah, plus I shot a lot with a telephoto camera, so he didn't even see me.

Ted Simons: We have another shot of him playing guitar, kind of a wider shot. Again, you don't see those kinds of shots, this stark black and white photography of John Lennon at that point in his career.

David Spindel: Everyone says, how did you get that effect? Usually you have a light around, the mist. I took out my camera and see, the look, you breathe on the camera, clear the middle and shoot and you get that effect. You can buy a filter for $90, but I usually break them so I came up with that.

Ted Simons: We have another photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono speaking when he was at the audio board. Their relationship, what did you see?

David Spindel: What was unique about John, he did the music and let Yoko handle all of the business. He was basically a stay-at-home dad. He wanted to stay at home and raise his son. He was upset because he realized with his first one, Julian, he was always on the road. When he came home he saw this kid he didn't recognize because he grew so much.

Ted Simons: When you're around someone like that, and you have a picture of them, an idea of them, and now when you hear John Lennon's music, because you met him and knew him and worked with him, did that change the way you heard his music?

David Spindel: Yes. I was too involved with my own work, my studio photography. I heard it, but didn't have the time to listen to it carefully. As I got older I had more time to listen, especially when I saw the documentary that was done, the words to his songs are just incredible. He made life really beautiful. You'll see in the documentary this evening, what he went through, his stay in America, trying to promote peace in the 15 world. To quote the government, they didn't want him around, they tried to get him out of the country. What he went through during his stay in America was unbelievable.

Ted Simons: What you went through with this photo shoot was just amazing. We're seeing black and white but there are color photographs, as well.

David Spindel: Yoko wanted black and white. I said, how can I pass up an opportunity like this? I shot color, as well, but I didn't tell her. Only a few of them are available. There were 72 of them, but they seem to have disappeared over the years. What is even funnier, I had shot some color negatives and took the roll and started to wind it up in the old film cans, not digital. I said, well, I'll put it in the safe and unwind it later. 15 years later I'm thinking, why did I save this roll of film? Well, I must have saved it for a reason. I sent it out to the lab and the guy calls me and said, they are pictures of a guy playing a guitar. I said, I don't photograph people with guitars. Send it over and let me look at it. When I saw the negatives, I almost passed out, I have color shots.

Ted Simons: You also have a color shot of that couch.

David Spindel: That's the couch shot.

Ted Simons: Of everyone kind of jammed on the couch there.

David Spindel: That's the only way I could get them all together. It's not ideally what I would have liked to have done, but I had to work fast and under the conditions available.

Ted Simons: Do you still keep in touch with Yoko Ono?

David Spindel: I get a Christmas card every year, I save them all.

Ted Simons: You've done a lot in your career. I notice you walked in with a Nikon D-90.

David Spindel: They have come out with other ones, too, since this one.

Ted Simons: I'm an amateur shutterbug myself, and digital has changed everything. All of a sudden we can take half decent shots now. How do the pros feel about digital as compared to film?

David Spindel: In my case I love it. Some swear by the old system, but I don't. It opened up a whole new career for me.

Ted Simons: You had quite a career before. This is going to be fascinating to watch tonight. The photos are very well done, the stark black and white is fantastic.

David Spindel: There's also a book called "Starting Over" that just came out by Ken Sharp with 16 of my photographs in it. I'll be doing some signings in some bookstores. Real quick, my son-in-law has a music store in Manhattan and they will be performing there in January.

Ted Simons: Thanks very much.

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