When VH1 needed photos for its 2010 book about John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Double Fantasy” album, they knew who to call. Jamaica Plain photographer Roger Farrington, at Ono’s request, shot the making of what would be Lennon’s final studio album in the summer of 1980.
A veteran photographer, Jamaica Plain’s Farrington has captured cultural events in Boston for more than 40 years, and after opening his archives to friend and Panopticon Gallery owner Jason Landry, the two discovered a theme: celebrity. A year and a half later, the pair debuted 50 handpicked black and white images at the Panopticon on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston this January to a crowd of about 100.
The exhibit, on display through April 10, feels nostalgic for both the celebrities and the city of Boston -- recalling a time when Jordan Marsh hadn’t yet sold to Macy’s, Christopher Reeve looked the epitome of Superman, and real estate moguls were focused on building hotels rather than walls.
Photos include an eclectic mix of ’80s and ’90s star power from music (Barry Manilow, Cher, Pavarotti), comedy (Garry Shandling, Richard Pryor), and film (Dan Aykroyd, Brooke Shields, Raquel Welsh) to local politics (former governor Michael Dukakis, flanked by a trio of pom-pom-waving cheerleaders, grinning from behind his desk at the State House). Mr. Fifteen Minutes of Fame himself, Andy Warhol, is pictured at the Morgan Gallery on Newbury Street in 1985.
Farrington’s work harkens back to a time when “selfie” had yet to join the lexicon and paparazzi were neither ubiquitous nor scorned. Farrington’s subjects seemed to enjoy having their picture taken. It’s a perspective guests appreciate.
“I like the way he captures the subject,” said Sarah Frederics, visiting the gallery with her husband, Richard. “It feels like we’re there with them.”
Five photos of Lennon from the making of his “Double Fantasy” album with Yoko Ono in 1980 close the exhibit. Lennon is dressed head-to-toe in black with shoulder-length locks and Coke-bottle glasses in photos simply titled “Groovin’,” “Rockin’ out,” and “Smiling,” bringing us back to a time when the famous dreamer urged us to give peace a chance and that all we needed was love. Imagine that.
Today, digital photographers have advantages that Farrington lacked in the ’80s, when photographers got their “hands wet in the dark room.” Now shots can instantly be reviewed and retaken, if needed. But there was a time when you “had to go out and hope that your training and ability as an artist were good enough to get the shot you really wanted,” Landry said.
Farrington was there long before “photographers were on the scene to cover every celebrity that walks the earth,” said Landry, himself a photographer. At that time, there were “less than a handful” of people to call if a celebrity landed in Boston.
What does the gallery owner think of the likes of TMZ? That’s “just luck,” he said. “They’re gonna capture Kardashians and Britney Spears doing something stupid and get a payday… A lot of people think they’re photographers, but they don’t have the history, the education to back it up.”
But Farrington’s more than just history. The exhibit not only offers a glimpse of Boston’s celebrity past, but also winks at modern pop culture. Alec Baldwin, circa 1994, in all his leading-man glory, is strategically placed next to now-President Donald Trump.
To his left, of course.
Stephanie Rotondo wrote this piece for a graduate magazine-writing class at Boston University and submitted it to Jamaica Plain News.