She came on stage with a black silk bag over her head and walked straight into the mic stand. It didnt ruin anything though. The crowd were in raptures
I took this shot of Yoko Ono 14 years ago, in 2005 at Patti Smiths Meltdown, the London festival curated by a different musical icon each year. Ive always been fascinated by Yoko Ono because of the mythos that surrounds her. Shes often referred to as the woman who split up the Beatles, but theres so much more to her than that.
When I saw her on the lineup I was surprised she seemed an odd choice. But she is indisputably one of the strongest women in the music industry, she has such a unique sound. When I saw her name, I had to go.
That festival was one of the best Meltdowns there has ever been, and Onos performance was electrifying. I was perched right in front of centre stage and the anticipation was palpable. The audience was full of different people: lifelong fans, Beatles obsessives, a newer avant garde crowd and a load of celebrities too. As we waited I felt like I was in church the reverence the crowd had for her was overwhelming.
The lights went down and a short film was projected on to a silk screen hanging across the stage. It was transfixing. In one scene, a person walks towards the camera, getting closer and closer, and then at a certain point, the figure in the film became real, on stage, in front of us. Yoko had a slit made in the screen which she came through at the very moment that the figure in the projection was the right size, so it looked like art made life. Everyone was completely taken aback.
At the time, she was still interested in bagism a practice she and Lennon engaged in as a way to deindividualise speakers and emphasise their message by wearing a nondescript bag over their heads. So she came out with this black silk bag obscuring her vision, and walked straight into the mic stand. It didnt ruin anything though. The crowd were in raptures.
In a split second when I managed to take my eyes off her, I realised that Sean Lennon, her and Johns son, was standing in the background bathed in red light. It was utterly spooky. He was the absolute spit of his father, wearing the same glasses with long hair it was like a vision on stage.
I was so transfixed that I almost missed this shot. Only when I took my eyes off Sean did I see Yoko directly above me, leaning over the stage with the power and energy you can see in the photo. I had one chance, and I managed to get the shot.
The photo made an impact: it was the photograph that got me working with the Rock Archives, countless people have messaged me about it, and I believe Yoko herself bought a copy. But its funny, because I dont necessarily rate it as one of my best. I think thats a quirk of photographers: the work they really rate isnt often the one that resonates with people the most.
But I think the image speaks to her power. At the time of this performance, she was around 71, and shes small. But she should never be underestimated: when she speaks, people listen. When she performs, people watch. You can feel her presence. I think its what makes her such an icon.
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