Brian Hamill Remembers Photographing John Lennon & Yoko Ono in NYC, 40 Years After the Legend's Death


“[They were] a couple who tried to make the world better by their existence and I think they did,” Hamill tells PEOPLE about the connection between Lennon and Ono, who were 32 and 39, respectively, at the time of the photo shoot. 

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A Stroll in New York City

“I think I showed their humanity,” he continues. “I hope I did because they certainly displayed it to me just walking around and talking to people on the street who stopped them. They were a very charming, very dedicated couple.” 

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Sweater Shopping

Hamill explains that when Ono stopped to buy a sweater the owner of the shop didn’t get out of his hammock. Her husband wasn’t pleased.

“John stayed by the door with his arms folded, kind of in a defensive [way]. I could see from his behavior that he was a little unhappy with the guy in the hammock,” Hamill remembers. “Not that he needed approval, or compliments, or whatever. It’s just that it was discourteous.”

After they left the shop, “we got outside and John said, ‘The guy in the hammock was an asshole,'” Hamill recalls. “I said, ‘Yeah, I know.'” 

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On the Pier

One of Hamill’s favorite photographs in Dream Lovers is the one he shot of the couple as they stood by the river. “We ended up going to their favorite spot, far west on Bank Street to a desolate pier,” he says. 

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Performing Together

“I think [John Lennon’s] presence in the world gave us a lot of joy with the Beatles and after the Beatles,” says Hamill, a longtime Lennon fan. “And also a lot of depth and humanity with his whole thing about peace — he and Yoko together were about peace.”

Hamill, like many fans, wonders where Lennon would be now if he hadn’t died at 40.

“I mean, he’d probably have written some novels. He was into art, so many things,” says Hamill, reflecting on John Lennon’s legacy. “He’s as famous as Sinatra and Elvis and Ali. When you think of John Lennon, you think of Yoko Ono, so you can’t leave her out of the equation.”

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A “Cool” Greeting

In 1975, Hamill photographed John Lennon at The Dakota. “He answered the door. The first thing he said to me, ‘How’ve you been Brian?'” Hamill says. “He was totally cool, made me feel very relaxed.” 

Hamill captured the beloved singer-songwriter on his bed, at the kitchen table, where he paused to jot down song lyrics, and on the roof of the apartment complex. At one point, they stopped to listen to music — Marvin Gaye and then The Isley Brothers. 

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The “Toasty”

After Lennon jotted down some lyrics, he said to Hamill, “I’m f—ing hungry. Are you hungry?” and offered to make him a “toasty.” 

After the rocker explained what a “toasty” was, he pulled out a black frying pan and made them both grilled cheese sandwiches. 

“He actually said to me, ‘Why don’t you relax? Put your cameras down and we’ll eat.'” Hamill says. “I didn’t want to photograph him while he was cooking. When he said that, part of me wanted to as a journalist, but part of me wanted to just relax with the guy.” 

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The Roof of The Dakota

When Hamill and Lennon went to the roof to take more photographs, Hamill put on his cap “with the snap open,” just like Lennon had been known to do. 

“He looked at me and I thought he was going to say something, but I beat him to the punch and I said, ‘Sorry for copying your style.’ He just chuckled,” Hamill says. 

“Then, when I was leaving the apartment, he walked me to the door and he put his hand on my back,” Hamill continues. “I had my coat and my cap on and he pointed to my cap and he said, ‘Don’t worry about copying my style, Brian. I copped it from Dylan.'” 

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The Best Subject

John Lennon was one of Hamill’s favorite subjects to photograph — and he’s shot a number of famous faces, including Al Pacino, Sharon Stone and Robert De Niro.

“The only other guy who got me as excited to be in the same space as him was not an actor,” says Hamill. “It was Muhammad Ali.”

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Dream Lovers

Dream Lovers: John and Yoko in NYC: The Photographs of Brian Hamill is on sale now. 

Buy It!

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