"It was a pretty quiet moment," Jacob Sousa said this week from his job at the L.A. Louver gallery in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, where David Hockney's solo exhibition "Something New in Painting (and Photography) [and even Printing] ... Continued" is on view.
"There were only a couple of gallery visitors, and one of my colleagues said, 'Joni Mitchell is here,' so I grabbed my camera and waited for her on the second floor."
It was there that Ms. Mitchell spotted Mr. Hockney, an acquaintance, and where Mr. Sousa asked the two if he could capture the moment.
"She smiled and stepped in front of the painting and took David by the hand," the photographer said of a gentle image that, posted on Valentine's Day to the gallery's Instagram account, quickly went on to garner more than two million impressions and to be liked and reposted and commented upon by people as disparate as Josh Groban, Lana Del Rey and members of the British Parliament.
"I don't know why," Mr. Sousa said, although some reasons immediately suggest themselves.
1. Because the image is that rare thing, a candid snapshot - without filters or manipulations and no planning - of an encounter that would occur just once.
2. Because it is a photo of two legends - one an octogenarian artist of worldwide reputation, the other a septuagenarian singer and songwriter who left an indelible mark on music history.
3. Because the snap, taken on a cool afternoon at Mr. Hockney's longtime California gallery, flashed onto screens as a blur of sunny, ecstatic color in an otherwise bleak season.
4. Because the combined age of the two figures depicted in it is 156.
5. Because Ms. Mitchell has seldom been seen in public since she was given a diagnosis of the immune disorder Morgellons disease, and suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015.
6. Because, despite the presence of the cane she uses since having learned again to walk, Ms. Mitchell appears radiant and robust.
7. Because Mr. Hockney is so ruddy looking that you would never take him for a dedicated smoker or someone who'd had a stroke just seven years ago.
8. Because Mr. Hockney is wonderfully attired in his singular and exuberant way: unstructured blue jacket, lime green cardigan, knit tie of alternating pink-and-red stripes, tweed flat cap and pink polka-dot pocket square.
9. Because Ms. Mitchell is dressed in what looked like queen's raiment: a navy blue and yellow fringed steam-stretch sweater from the designer Yoshiyuki Miyamae's fall 2018 collection for Issey Miyake, a show one critic likened to "Dune" meets "Game of Thrones."
10. Because the two are immigrants, each of whom forged an early path to California - Ms. Mitchell from the cold reaches of the Saskatchewan province of Canada by way of Paris; Mr. Hockney from Yorkshire, England - exchanging worlds "too old and cold," as she once wrote, for a coastal city filled with possibility, then as now.
11. Because, like so many others, Mr. Sousa, 26, the gallery worker who took the picture, was once rescued from a dark time by a chance encounter with a YouTube clip of Ms. Mitchell singing "California'' on "The Johnny Cash Show" in 1969.
12. Because Sean Hewitt, 28, the Irish poet who picked up the image from a fan site devoted to Ms. Mitchell, reposted it to Twitter and went to bed on Valentine's Day, awakened the next morning and found that "my phone had gone mad."
13. Because, as Mr. Hewitt also said, at a time of intensified obsession with the barren reaches of the digital world, the image is a joyful postcard from the analog one. "It's this wonderful depiction of two successful people enjoying their old age," he said.
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