WFUV’s Dennis Elsas with Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and photographer Bob Gruen, unveil the John Lennon commemorative stamp from the US Postal Service at the 72nd Street Naumberg Bandshell in New York City on September 7, 2018. (Photo: Aislinn Keely)

Picture this: It’s 1974. Two men are standing on a New York City rooftop, one taking a picture of the other as he changes glasses and makes different expressions every few seconds. It’s an evening between two friends, except these two friends are John Lennon and rock photographer Bob Gruen.

Gruen said two of his favorite photos were taken that night, when Lennon invited him to his penthouse apartment to take head shots for his album Walls and Bridge. In one, Lennon stands against the sunset wearing a New York City t-shirt Gruen had gifted him a year prior. Between that time and when the photo was taken, Lennon had spent a year and a half away from his wife, Yoko Ono. Lennon would later refer to this period as “The Lost Weekend.”

“You might have heard about the Lost Weekend that lasted 18 months, and I gave it to him at the beginning of that weekend and he still had it at the end when he came back to New York so I knew he liked the shirt,” said Gruen.

The other photo taken that night now graces a United States postage stamp. In it, Lennon stares directly at the camera through a pair of thick, rounded glasses. Gruen said he remembered it like it was yesterday.

“He just sat there making faces at me for about 12 rolls of film, all different expressions with all different eye glasses on,” said Gruen. “Each roll of film was a whole new set of expressions.”

Towards the end of the twelfth roll of film, Lennon put on all six pairs of glasses at once. That image became the back of the Walls and Bridges.

“I kind of like that picture a lot because if you see all the glasses you can see right through them and actually see his eye looking at you,” said Gruen. “It was a very fun day.”

However, the U.S. Postal Service chose an image from the session where Lennon wears only one pair. In an unveiling at the 72nd Street Naumberg Bandshell, Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono and son Sean Lennon spoke on Lennon’s legacy.

Gruen said he and Sean Lennon had previously spoken about what made the stamp photo so special.

“It’s a very personal kind of picture. He’s not looking nervous he’s not wondering who the photographer is. It’s just two friends looking at each other.”

Gruen said he was honored that the Postal Service chose one of his photos for the Forever Stamp.

“There’s a lot of pictures of John Lennon they could’ve picked from, so it’s a real honor that they picked my picture,” said Gruen.

Lennon’s personal stamp collection is also on display at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, DC.

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