Speaking of the John Lennon stamp, this is a photograph of Lennon I've always liked:
It's a Polaroid by Andy Warhol. It's descriptive, but not grandiose or glorifying: the subject is wearing a T-shirt and hasn't bothered to arrange his hair, although Warhol might have liked the shape his hair makes. And the photo is plainspoken and small in size. Lennon's expression doesn't tell you what to think of him either way: he's not doing a star turn, not trying to make himself look appealing to the viewer with a conventional Murricun grimace/grin, but neither is he showing the darker side that his personality was reputed to have, anger or superciliousness or arrogance. To me, all this makes it more engaging; I find myself searching the picture for clues, as if to ask: what kind of person was this? The eyes seem simultaneously brightened (by the specular reflection of the flash) and obscured (by the glasses). And of course there's something slightly macabre about the portrait, because you're looking at a murder victim, too. And you're looking into history, at a man who died almost forty years ago now. Whatever you see in the eyes is changed by the fact that you know his fate.
And the photographer—who, like all great portraitists, is partly revealed, reflected, by the aspect his sitter presents to us—is dead too. The transaction we're voyeuristically witnessing is one of viewer and viewed, seer and the seen, both famous still, but both long gone.
And by the way, this picture contains what you might call double appeal. It's a lesson I learned in the magazine business from Outdoor Photographer magazine back in the '90s—that you increase your chances of success if you appeal to two different markets or audiences with the same artwork or product. (That presumes you don't limit the extent of the appeal to either group by including the other.) In this case, the picture appeals to Beatles, Lennon, and "classic rock" music fans on the one hand, and it also appeals to people interested in Andy Warhol, pop art, and modern art on the other. OP appeals to both the photo-hobbyist audience and to outdoor-activity audiences. The key with a magazine was that you could sell advertisements in two separate categories, greatly increasing your chances of selling enough ads. My magazine at the time was a darkroom magazine, which, I recognized, meant that we were trying to appeal not just to one audience but a subset of one audience. (I left in 2000; the magazine folded in 2013.)
The movie industry has codified this down to a rather crude basic level—movies are designed to sell to one of four types of audience—older females, older males, younger males, or younger females. Producers are always on the lookout for movies that appeal to two of the four groups, and one that appeals to three of the groups or (this is rare) all four groups can be a bonanza. Movies are seldom made to appeal to older males exclusively, because, statistically, older males don't go to the movies. Usually, movies targeted to them are also targeted to older females or younger males at the same time. Old fashioned "auteur" movies, categorized as "dramas" now, are the motion picture equivalent of "literary" novels—potentially prestigious, but sales lightweights.
In photography, O. Winston Link is a prime example of double appeal—he appealed to photographers and photography collectors, and also to railfans and steam train enthusiasts. Scott Schumann's "Sartorialist" blog appeals to street photography fans and people interested in fashion; Brandon Stanton's "Humans of New York" appeals to people who like environmental portraits, people who like human interest stories, and people who are interested in New York City.
I realized the appeal of "The Simpsons" years ago while watching it with my then-five-year-old son—he and I would both laugh at it, but at completely different parts. He liked the cartoon slapstick and the in-your-face jokes, I liked the cultural references and sardonic asides. (I think we both rather liked Bart's part wise, part wiseass Bugs Bunnyesque take-it-all-in-stride attitude.)
Any time you can appeal to two (or more) constituencies without limiting the appeal to one of them, you increase your audience as well as your odds of success.
Original contents copyright 2018 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
hugh crawford: "And a dead medium as well. Warhol used a Polaroid BigShot fixed focus camera (with the amazing chemical mechanical lighting of the Magicubes, also extinct). The Polaroid peel-apart 669 film is long gone and the Fuji is in the outdated and expensive category. A great camera that looked like a toy. With 655 positive negative film I could make 40x50 inch prints. I still have a pack of 655 in my RB Graflex but it's 'too special to use.'"
Eolake: "I have just watched "How The Beatles Changed The World" (I think it was Netflix). It was excellent. Being from 1963, I didn’t know that much about it. They weren’t just the most successful band in history. Warhol’s book From A To B And Back Again is interesting. Like all his work, very abstract."
Mike replies: Relative to the movie you mentioned, I can recommend Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald (Ian MacCormick), the British music critic who committed suicide in 2003. He's a Lennon partisan, but then so am I. And he has an inexplicable antipathy to George Harrison, which I definitely don't share. But it's a fascinating book, and had me going back to many of the old songs to listen to them intently with "new ears."
Doug Thacker: "Warhol must have made thousands of Polaroid portraits over the years, and almost all of them were strong in the way that only the best photographic portraits are. I've always found this fascinating, and instructive. Because he was using rudimentary equipment, with a fixed lens and on-camera flash, the extraordinary character of his portraits comes down to his connection with his subjects, however fleeting, his trust in his own intuition, and his timing with the shutter button.
"As you point out vis a vis the Lennon photo, both the subject and the photographer are now dead. Each of them was among the most influential figures of the century, and each of them was shot by an assassin, or, in Warhol's case, a would-be assassin, Valerie Solanas.
"When Warhol was shot, in Manhattan in 1968, he was rushed to nearby New York Hospital, where his life was saved only by the heroic efforts of a team of surgeons. In all the years following, he would refuse to even walk past that hospital, because whenever he did so, he said, he could see and feel his own death.
"When Warhol fell ill and required emergency gallbladder surgery in 1997, it was this same hospital he was taken to. And it was here that he died, shortly after a routine gallbladder removal.
"It would be easy to look at this portrait of John Lennon by Andy Warhol and see prefigured in it somehow their fatal victimization, but that's not what strikes me. What strikes me in this portrait is their strength and their defiance and their victory. I don't know what more you could ask of a portrait, or of an artist."
Tom Burke: "I can’t comment on the image—pictures of the Beatles (as a group or as individuals) have been around my life since forever.
"But, as an aside, and seeing as this is as much about the Beatles as anything, I’ve come to realise that I was incredibly lucky to be the right age at the right time and in the right place. I remember buying 'She Loves You' in the late summer or early autumn of 1963. I was 13, and it was the most exciting thing I’d ever heard. From then I bought every Beatles single up to 'Lady Madonna' on the day it was released, apart from 'Help!'—I was out of the country that summer. It’s difficult to comprehend now just how significant The Beatles were in the UK in those years. Britain in the early '60s was so traditional—the post-war era had seen a determined attempt to re-assert the normality of the pre war years, but by the '60s that was breaking down. There were parallel changes in other areas—theatre, TV, literature—but pop music reached a greater proportion of the population than anything else, and The Beatles were the first and best of a whole new thing. Much as I enjoyed Cliff Richard in the years before, he was a British copy of US originals. The Beatles rewrote the rule book. And as I got a little bit older and started wanting more than just 'Moon in June' songs, they were moving the same way at the same time. There’d never been a song like 'Paperback Writer,' for instance, or 'Penny Lane,' or the lyricism of 'Eleanor Rigby.' Amazing years. And I think that their significance is demonstrated by the fact that a couple of very old images of John Lennon still considered worthy of note and comment."