(Note: Joan Athey is co-author of "Give Peace a Chance: John and Yoko's Bed-in for Peace" published by Wiley. We interviewed her by email.)
Q. When was the book idea formulated and how did you become involved?
Joan Athey: I recognized the quality of (photographer Gerry Deiter's) work and the importance of the message when I first met him in 2002. He was on a fixed income, living on his boat so had no resources to really bring the images out to the public in the way they deserved. I volunteered to help him. I used my skills and contacts as a marketing/promotion expert to create a first gallery show in Vancouver. And in 2005, when they were at Victoria's Royal British Columbia Museum hanging alongside those of Linda McCartney, I self-published a 30-page catalogue to accompany the images released Dec. 1, 2005. Gerry died of a heart attack Dec. 9.
In 2007, I bought the 400 or so negatives and slides from the estate with the idea of making an expanded book as the 40th anniversary was only a year and a half away. The iron would never be hotter to a) raise Gerry's stature as one of the great 60s photographer b) continue to support Yoko's work for peace through a substantial publication of the images that so beautifully illustrate their sincerity, love and the innocence of the time.
Q. How many pictures did Gerry Deiter take? How many of them are in the book?
Joan Athey: Eighty in the book.
Q. What don't people know about the bed-in that they can learn from the pictures?
Joan Athey: Readers will see how absolutely beautiful Yoko was. They will see why John fell in love with her. A resentful media only published unflattering photos of her. Plus there was still racist resentment towards the Japanese and Asians in general left over from the war. John and Yoko were the first interracial marriage that was not pastiche like Sammy Davis Jr. and the tall blondes. You couldn't make fun of it and roll with the punches. You had to find a way to condemn it and rationalize the break up of the Beatles. Music fans had come to rely on the Beatles for innovative music that at times brought up key questions and messages about being and existence. To have them disbanded felt almost like a betrayal -- a great personal loss.
As for the bed-in, people don't really know much about the bed-in, even today. It was not a big deal back then and we didn't have the mass media then that we have now so there is not really much out there today that gives context to the event.
If LIFE had printed the photos, they would be filed away, locked in an archive, maybe lost, mabe ruined ... Purchased and forgotten by multi-mergers of media companies ... Now they are out in the world intact at precisely the right time when they can do the most good. The publication of the book is a chance to re-tell the story in a photojournalistic way, supplemented with the recollections of key eye-witnesses to the recording of the song.
Q. Do the exhibits going on around the world just have pictures from the book?
Joan Athey: The North American debut of the exhibition is next week June 12 at the Museum at Bethel Woods (near the Woodstock festival site). It has text, additional items from the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal and select photos from the book, reproduced in a large museum panel format.
Q. What was Deiter's impressions of John and Yoko and the whole bed-in idea?
Joan Athey: Read his essay (which is a compilation of two articles he had written prior to his death) and see that being at the bed-in changed his life from a high-flying fashion photographer to a more socially conscious person. "John's voice .... nnimates my days and flows through my dreams at night".
(Yoko) has not strayed from the original goal to "sell peace the way other people sell soap". John and Yoko believed that only through advertising and promotion could people's minds be turned towards the individual's responsibility to become aware of our shared humanity. They state in my book in the small excerpt of the unpublished interview that they will not be starting their own foundation or peace organization because the world does not need it. They will put their efforts and money towards an ongoing campaign to change the world by changing the way people think about how we are all connected.
My book has to be read three times: 1) A flip through the photos. 2) A read of the essays and a leisurely read of the cutlines, which is a story unto itself. 3) Finally, to gather friends or family and read aloud Yoko's message. Try it yourself. It is a powerful piece to be read aloud.
At my gallery show in Toronto, some mid-30s lennon fans were enjoying the moment, but they began to talk about the old Yoko as a flake, slagging her in the usual manner -- commenting on her singing -- even if they really haven't heard it lately or at all. I asked them to come to the table I was signing books at. I invited them to sit down. Then I asked them to close their eyes. They did so. And I read the essay. When they opened their eyes I could see the moist look of understanding. I had changed their attitude.
And that is the goal of my book and the reason I have gone to so much trouble, hard work, personal cost and putting my life on hold for the past two years. Because this is my action for peace. I got tired of tellng people one person at at time "we are all one".
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