1969 "Bed-In for Peace" exhibition opens in Liverpool, UK

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"Laurel and Hardy, that’s John and Yoko. And we stand a better chance under that guise because all the serious people like Martin Luther King and Kennedy and Gandhi got shot." -- John Lennon

From the 1957 photograph of John Lennon playing in his skiffle band, The Quarrymen to the 1971 photograph of the former Beatle performing “Imagine”—exhibited at the opening and closing stages of the Beatles Story respectively—Lennon’s journey from artist to activist is told in a unique way within Liverpool’s historic Albert Dock. Yet this is nothing new to fans of the Fab Four. Neither is it to those two million visitors who have been welcomed since the attraction first opened in 1990.

But the Beatles Story expansion programme includes a new exhibition space. This will host a series of themed exhibitions to ensure there is something new to see every time you visit. “Give Peace A Chance: John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In for Peace” is just the latest (till 15 August). This European premiere of a new photo exhibition opened on 26 May to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the famous Montreal Bed-in.

The 40-odd images exhibited are “one of the last great finds of 1960’s photography, a treasure chest of long-hidden images from one of the decade’s key events,” according to Canadian music commentator, Paul McGrath, writing in the souvenir book. To be sure, guests are offered a seat on the edge of John and Yoko’s bed in Suite 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel between 26 May and 2 June, 1969.

Gerry Deiter became the eyes and the ears in the newlyweds’ hotel room, becoming the only one to document the entire eight days. The late Brooklyn-born photojournalist was originally on an assignment for Life magazine, but the story was bumped in favor of one about Vietnam and the photos never ran. “Until 2004, only Gerry, his family and closest friends had seen some of these photos,” McGrath reminds us. “But after 9/11 he felt if he could rekindle in others some small spark of the spirit that had so moved him in 1969, the world would be a better place for it.”

The prints of a western man and an eastern woman nonchalantly sitting in their white honeymoon pyjamas talking peace represent a time of idealism, of optimism, of pacifism. The reality behind the pictures is not just a bedroom, but a movie set—even a recording studio with people jammed in the room, clapping, singing, pounding on a table top and kicking a door to provide the driving beat.

From the colorful images recording impromptu singing sessions and the poster board containing the lyrics (since vanished) to the intimate black and white portraits of Kyoko (Yoko’s daughter with former husband filmmaker Tony Cox) and the emotive pictures surrounding the visit of a delegation of blind young men, this exhibition is nothing if not stirring.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts celebrates Lennon’s audacity of hope with “Imagine: The Peace Ballad of John & Yoko” (till 21 June), organized in collaboration with Ono and contains more than 100 works of art and film footage. The lack of film footage in Liverpool, however, is a welcome one. Never has less been more. Plus for those wanting more than still photography, McGrath’s documentary, “John and Yoko: Give Peace a Song”, is more than enough.

Notwithstanding his guise, Lennon was shot dead akin to the serious people like Martin Luther King and Kennedy and Gandhi. But the ambassador for peace’s international rhythm lives on and remains a serious force in the chance for peace.

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