Late photographer Gerry Dieter was rather modest about the pictures he took of The Beatles’ John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono during their bed-in for peace in Montreal in 1969.
The now-defunct Life Magazine, which assigned Dieter to shoot that event – it ultimately gained mythic status in the years since – bumped the photo feature for coverage of the escalating Vietnam War. The photographer kept the negatives and they sat stored away for decades.
Fast forward to 2004. Dieter had moved to Victoria previously and befriended Joan Athey through their shared love for music at Swans Pub. Athey gained a sense of how much the photographs meant to the lensman and helped him mount an exhibit that year.
“They’d really become a part of his soul and he didn’t want to let go of them,” she said. “He had also fallen on hard times and didn’t have the kind of income he might have otherwise.”
An employee of CBC at the time, Athey also had a pretty good idea of the value of the photos. She encouraged him to share them further with the public, especially given that the message of the bed-in was about peace, a subject near to Dieter’s heart.
The photographer died in Victoria on Dec. 9, 2005, one day after taking part in a spirited tribute to Lennon on the 35th anniversary of his death, at the Royal B.C. Museum.
This week Athey, who purchased the collection after Dieter died, is in Japan to help kick off the Give Peace a Chance exhibit of his photos, honouring a longtime wish of his. People in that country still revere The Beatles and appreciate Lennon’s efforts to bring about world peace.
“I am just thrilled that there is a place now where, for at least a few weeks, people can go and experience the love, the optimism, the vulnerability and in their hearts feel a little peace,” Athey said of the photos and the story they tell of Lennon and Ono’s relationship.
The exhibit will be displayed in the high-profile Space Hachikai gallery area at Tower Records near the busy Shibuya Station in Tokyo. It includes a virtual reality aspect that allows viewers to experience the viewpoint of John and Yoko in bed, and Athey also has one of Dieter’s cameras she believes took most of the images from the bed-in.
Show co-producer Kozu Fukuoka, an acclaimed photographer himself, said in a release that the Shibuya area is popular with young people, which means even more people will see the images and the message they inspire.
“We hope this exhibition will inspire the younger generation to think about peace and love,” he said. “The images appeal to everyone, not just Beatles fans.”
As for Athey, she doesn’t claim to have the recipe for bringing about world peace, but she’s willing to see what happens when her friend’s photo story of eight days in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel is told to a whole new generation.
Give Peace a Chance, not coincidentally, opens Dec. 8 and runs through Jan. 8.