Leonard Cohen goes to the doctor: Ian Cook’s best photo | Leonard cohen

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In 1979 Leonard Cohen was in London for a few days on a European tour and I had been commissioned to photograph him by the American magazine People. I arrived at the Dorchester Hotel and was shown to his room. He announced that he had contracted some sort of laryngeal infection on the plane and may not be able to play. He said he had an upcoming appointment with a Harley Street specialist. My heart sank and I thought, “This is the mission. Then he said cheerfully: “Do you want to come with me?

We hopped in a cab and I followed him to the operating room. The doctor examined him, sat him in a chair, and gave him a nebulizer. With his dark glasses, a scarf wrapped around his neck and a large silver mask covering his nose and mouth, he looked quite odd but it made an unusual photo, unlike any other I had seen of him. . Forty minutes later, much to his relief – and mine – he said he was feeling a lot better.

I spent the next two days accompanying Cohen to London on various appointments. This included an interview with Radio London, where he spoke without any problem, and a visit to Hampstead, where he has already been digging, to have tea with his former landlady.

He told me that she had been very nice to him when he lived there in 1960, thanks to a writing grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, and that they had kept in touch. She made him a cake, and after tea she washed and Leonard dried off. He spent about an hour chatting with her and then returned to the hotel late. Then he went up to his room to rest a bit before his concert at Hammersmith Odeon.

Downstairs, his staff were worried that he wasn’t arriving on time and called his room several times to say he was late. When he got off, they tried to rush him into a waiting car, but in the lobby was a young boy holding half a dozen of his albums that he wanted Cohen to sign. The entourage insisted there was no time for it, but Leonard took the records, sat on the floor by the revolving door, spread them around him and signed each one . The fan was so grateful. Cohen did indeed arrive 30 minutes late for the concert. He apologized to the audience and it didn’t seem to bother him in the least.

After the concert, there was a party in Chelsea. I was standing on the sidewalk looking for a cab when a limo with dark windows pulled up, the back window rolled down and Cohen said, “Hi Ian, are you coming to the party?” When I said yes, he opened the door and told me to jump inside. Seeing it was packed, I said, “I don’t think there is room,” but he said, “Oh, just sit on my lap”, that’s it. that I got to the party.

I have photographed thousands of personalities in my career, but I have never met someone as laid back or generous with their time as Leonard Cohen. Before the mission, I liked several songs, like Bird on the Wire and Suzanne, but I didn’t own any of her records. When I told a neighbor that I was going to take a picture of him, he commented, “Oh, you mean old falling drawers? Today, I still love all of his records, and when people ask me which celebrity I enjoyed meeting the most, I only have one answer: Leonard Cohen.

I knew when I took the picture that it was an original shot, but that was only the start of the mission. I didn’t see it printed until it was published in People magazine – I used to airlift the undeveloped film to their offices in New York City. At that time, the magazine only used black and white photographs, which is my favorite medium.

Despite storing all of my negatives and prints in my spare bedroom, I had never been able to sort them. Covid-19 coaxed me to scan them and put them in order. I always knew I had this photo in my files – it was just a matter of finding it. I don’t know if Leonard liked it, but I hope he liked it. We never saw each other again.

Ian cook

Ian Cook CV

Born: Hove, Sussex, 1944
Qualified: Self-taught
Influences: Henri Cartier-Bresson
High point: “Working for People weekly as one of two London-based photographers covering Europe and Africa. “
Low point: “I don’t spend enough time with my family because of work.”
The best advice: “Believe in yourself.”

An exhibition of Ian Cook’s photographs is at Mycenae House, London, until October 31.


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