Sean Lennon, in an unfortunate partnership with Terry Richardson and Purple magazine, has recreated the iconic Rolling Stone image of his parents by lying in bed like his clothed mother while his naked model girlfriend imitates his deceased father. This is not the first time that Lennon the younger has elected to rip off this popular photograph of his parents, but his imitation once again leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Being the progeny of one of the greatest songwriters in the history of music must bring with it some unenviable baggage to haul, but why bother copying one of his most recognized photographs repeatedly? Why make the connection explicit?
Some may view the image as nothing more than an homage to the original, but the reversal of gender roles in the reproduction undermines the intimate gender dynamic of the original. The John and Yoko photo is intriguing due to the intimacy of their embrace and the way in which traditional gender roles are reversed, documenting visually an egalitarian, vulnerable relationship between two people. Having Yoko clothed while John curls around her in the fetal position suggests both an innocence and intimacy, while also tapping into an underlying sexual current.
The latest iteration, however, hews to none of the underlying themes of the original. Whereas John Lennon can be seen as childlike, model Kemp Muhl is clearly amping up the porn factor as much as possible. Examine the difference between the two in regards to their positions: you can’t see John’s nipples, whereas Muhl is all about exposure and eroticism. The connection between Muhl and Sean Lennon is much more sexually charged than in the original photo, and the reversal of gender roles so as to align with traditional cultural stereotypes undermines the power of the original photograph. Annie Liebovitz’s photo was about delicacy and egalitarianism; Terry Richardson’s photograph destroys all such nuances in favor of visual porn that upholds traditional gender stereotypes.