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My date with Bono

My date with Bono

My first question to Bono’s publicist: “What are the chances I’ll get to photograph him without his sunglasses?” Her response: “Hmmm. Probably zero. No chance. I don’t see it happening.” So began my date with Bono.

When I get a chance to shoot someone I really admire, I try to bring my Zone VI 4×5 field camera. This was definitely one of those times. I lugged two lighting kits, backgrounds, two Canon 5D digital cameras, plenty of film and one last frame of 4×5 Polaroid 100.

In about 20 minutes, I set up two lighting situations in the same location so I could work two different pictures without having to move very much in the hotel room. They told me I would have 30 minutes, which is an eternity in my mind, as I am used to working in five- to 10-minute windows. I was ready to meet The Man.

What a nice guy. Greeted me with a big handshake and looked directly into my eyes when talking to me. I felt like a kid.

I discussed my concept and the mood I wanted to portray (this was for the Afghanistan war-themed movie “Brothers,” for which U2 had several songs on the soundtrack) and Bono seemed to accept the idea. We started shooting and after about 10 frames, he asked if he could see what we had done. I showed him the camera and within seconds he said, “I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.” I heard the needle scratch the entire record that was my portrait session with Bono. My heart sank, I swallowed my pride and immediately began the dance of collaboration.  

“OK,” I said, “so what did you have in mind?” I adjusted some lights and for the next few minutes we took a few pictures and looked at the back of the camera to see whether we both liked what we got. It didn’t take long for Bono to suggest trying some without his glasses. I was cheering inside, but played it cool and just replied, “Um, sure, we could try that if you want and see how it looks.” Having finally gotten to where I wanted, I loaded my one final color Polaroid into the film back. Exposed. Kept shooting. Pulled the print and could feel the smile on my face as he asked to see it. We were both psyched with what we made.

We eventually did some “Bono the Rock Star” pictures with his sunglasses, and one of those became the cover of the Envelope, but the color Polaroid, sans glasses, was the star.

We wrapped our shoot and I asked to take a photo with him. He obliged, and while I held out my camera to make a self-portrait, he wrapped his arm around me in a faux head lock. The shoot was complete.

View more pictures of celebrities by Jay and other Times photographers.

Photography made on October 20, 2009 at Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, CA.


  1. August 10, 2010, 8:05 pm

    Hey Jay, as you know from my recent post I'm a big admirer of your work. A quick question – do you show the back of your camera to your subjects as a courtesy or as a consequence of some agreement beforehand? At the heart of this is control of the image so I know it's a touchy issue..

    By: Alex G
  2. August 10, 2010, 9:51 pm

    Hey Alex! Thanks for the recent plug on your Chicago Tribune photo blog!
    In most of my portrait assignments, in particular with "celebrity" shoots, my time is super limited. If i was to stop and show images, it would take precious minutes off the clock that no publicist is willing to spare, in particular when it's a press junket and there are five more interviews! On (rare?!) occasion, I will show the subject a frame or two, but again, it's something i weigh heavily, and always weigh against the amount of time i've been told i have with the subject! You know how often we're told, "You'll have 15 minutes," and then, when the day has gone long, a publicist walks two steps in front of the subject and says, "Sorry, we're running late, you'll only have about five minutes." JLC

    By: Jay L. Clendenin
  3. August 11, 2010, 10:59 am

    thanks Jay! great photos and behind the scenes stuff. a toast to the new photo blog >clink<

    By: Alex G
  4. August 11, 2010, 1:07 pm

    Nicely done. And I can feel the Tribune Nation love flowing.

    By: Chris A.
  5. August 14, 2010, 9:36 am

    Hi Jay!! Great Stuff!!! Great Man named BONO…thank you, Jay!!!

  6. August 14, 2010, 3:16 pm

    Jay,…wonderful photo! Can "The Envelope" still be purchased? Thanks for sharing!

    By: Val
  7. August 15, 2010, 5:53 am

    Jay, no offense but the cover shot of Bono is not flattering to him at all. I'm surprised he ok'd it. He is way more handsome than that. Loved your article though.

    By: srssrssrstobsrsrstse
  8. December 15, 2010, 5:04 pm

    Actually, it's very sexy. 😉

    By: Cat
  9. August 16, 2010, 4:10 pm

    isn’t that a photo from the POP days??

  10. December 15, 2010, 5:03 pm

    Both shots are wonderful. Thanks for the story!

    By: Cat
  11. October 28, 2014, 8:07 pm

    Bono definitely looks better with his signature sunglasses.

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