Renowned for his sensual, provocative images, Kishin Shinoyama is one of Japan’s most controversial and acclaimed artists, at once hailed by critics and charged for public indecency. Photographing everything from antiques to porn stars, Shinoyama is particularly recognized for his work with pop icons and celebrities, and the rare, private moments he captures with very public personalities. Through his lens, world-famous faces often reveal an unexpected openness and vulnerability.
This capacity for ease and intimacy is perhaps most poignantly expressed in his beautiful series of photographs of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, shot at Ono’s request for the cover and promotion of the couple’s celebrated 1980 album, Double Fantasy, just three months before Lennon’s untimely death. Now, over 30 years later, these images—many of them never seen before—still resonate with a remarkable freshness and honesty, immortalizing the iconic couple at a pivotal moment in their personal and creative relationship.
Limited to a total of 1,980 numbered copies signed by Yoko Ono and Kishin Shinoyama, this book is available as Collector’s Edition (No. 251-1,980), and also in two Art Editions of 125 copies each, with a pigment print signed by Kishin Shinoyama.
Kishin Shinoyama was born in Tokyo in 1940. He began shooting award-winning advertising photography while still a student at Nihon University. After several years with the advertising agency Light Publicity, Shinoyama began working as an independent photographer in 1968. In the decades since, he has taken portraits of some of the most recognized people of our time, including Yukio Mishima, Momoe Yamaguchi, Rie Miyazawa, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In his Gekisha and Shinorama series, Shinoyama has used the latest technologies to create new modes of expression. His recent digital multimedia project digi+KISHIN brings a new perspective to both photography and cinema.
Josh Baker has been making books for TASCHEN since 2005. His one hundred-plus book collaborations include signed limited editions by Dennis Hopper, Bert Stern, and Ellen von Unwerth, and best-selling pop culture titles such as 75 Years of DC Comics and Norman Mailer’s Moonfire. He lives in Oakland, California.
Find out more at the Taschen website.
In a New Book, Never-Before-Seen Photos of John Lennon and Yoko OnoRebecca Bengal
A little over 30 years ago, the Japanese photographer Kishin Shinoyama walked through Central Park with one of the most famous couples in the world. It was sunset, autumn; they sat on a bench just in front of the pond, bordered by trees, a sliver of New York skyline visible in the distance, including the building where they lived. He asked them to kiss, and he clicked the shutter. Three months later, on Dec. 8, 1980, John Lennon was fatally shot at the entrance to the Dakota, home to him and his wife, Yoko Ono. Just three weeks prior to Lennon’s death, Shinoyama’s photograph of John and Yoko’s kiss at Central Park Pond had appeared on the cover of what would be their final studio album, “Double Fantasy.” Shinoyama made other photographs that day, of course — 800 in all, in fact — but many of them have never been shown until now, on the occasion of Taschen’s forthcoming publication of “Kishin Shinoyama. John Lennon & Yoko Ono. Double Fantasy” ($700), out this month. A video trailer for the book premieres here.
The book was Ono’s idea, Shinoyama explains over email, through a translator (he does not speak English). It was triggered by a 2010 exhibition in Tokyo celebrating the 30th anniversary of the album. “There were many pictures that Yoko had never seen for over 30 years,” he says. “She said to me, ‘Thank you for taking images of my happiest time. How about making a photo book with these pictures?’”
Three decades earlier, they’d begun shooting in the studio where Lennon and Ono were recording, before winding up in the park, where Ono wanted to take “a cover photo.” The first of that series by the pond was the one. Though he’d been nervous about meeting the former Beatle, as Shinoyama recalls in the video, he was quickly put at ease by how approachable Lennon was: “He was so nice and sweet.” It set the tone for the day. “I did not try to step into their private life,” Shinoyama remembers now. “I tried to not interfere and capture his tender and gentle personality silently, so that I could shoot him in a very natural way, so that you couldn’t imagine that we had never met before.” Revisiting the pictures took Shinoyama back to the moment he learned of John Lennon’s death. “I was in my office,” he remembers. “All of the sudden my phone began to ring, people calling from newspapers and TV. I was too shocked to do anything.” Everyone in Tokyo, it seemed, wanted to get the reaction of one of the last Japanese people to have met John and Yoko in person. “I told my feelings honestly,” he says. “I had the ‘Double Fantasy’ record jacket in front of me at the time. I took it in color, but the record was released with the image in black and white. I wondered why they changed it.”
Shinoyama has a photographer’s awareness of fleeting time. As he says in the video, “Every moment ends instantly — it becomes past, you know.” Looking at his pictures now, does he find anything in them he didn’t notice then? “As I see it now, I still think that John’s and Yoko’s pure love continues on,” he says. “From this angle, I can see.”