At Proud Galleries we feature photographs of the most famous people in the history of music. Our photography gallery London continues to pioneer popular culture photography, featuring music, fashion, film, art, documentary and sporting shows.
The Beatles were arguably the most influential rock band of all time, they are also one of the best selling artists in history, with estimated sales of over 600 million units worldwide. The photographs that capture this iconic group at their height of their fame are among some of the most recognised images in pop culture.
Proud’s Rare Pictures Gallery of the Beatles
Proud Galleries’ archive contains an exclusive collection of some of the most famous Beatles pictures and prints; compelling images of the Beatles captured by the photographer Robert Whitaker at the height of their early fame, when Beatlemania had just taken off, and the British media were obsessed with unique images, prints and stories about John, Paul, George and Ringo.
The photos in the Proud Galleries have been featured in many photography exhibitions London, and capture that moment in time, that shift from early rock and roll band to International superstardom. The days of experimentation in music and iconography, as surrealism and abstraction seeped into their photoshoots, albums and lyrics.
‘The Butcher Sleeve’ prints, from the Proud Galleries Beatles photos collection:
Nothing captures this better than the famous Vale Studios series 1-7; the photo shoot in 1966 that produced the famous ‘Butcher Sleeve’ on the album cover “Yesterday and Today”. Proud photographic galleries London holds an exclusive selection of pictures from this shoot, available to buy and own today.
This album, released in America, is one of the most sought after by record collectors and true fans. Its fame exploded after the public outrage that followed its release; copies of the original album cover featured John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in butchers’ smocks surrounded by pieces of raw meat and plastic doll parts. They were subsequently either recalled or destroyed. The album was reprinted with an altered, more acceptable cover.
The price that the original record covers now sell for is astronomical. Even amongst the devoted record collecting world this is an unusual find. Whereas the price collectors are willing to pay for obscure records often baffles the general public, particularly where they are related to unknown bands and artists; the original release of the album Yesterday and Today is one of the most widely recognised valuable albums in the world even amongst non-collectors.
It’s interesting to note that this is an album more famous for its cover than the musical content, illustrating the power of photography in popularising or changing a band’s image.
Due to the power balance within the record industry and their contracts at the time, the Beatles had little input into compiling this particular album, but such was their fame by this point that when it was released it spent 5 weeks at no.1 in the US.
Proud Galleries and the Photographer behind the Beatles Images, Robert Whitaker
Robert Whitaker had originally taken the photos used for the Butchers Sleeve for a conceptual art project at his studio in Vale Road, Chelsea.
“I wanted to do a real experiment. People will jump to the wrong conclusions about it being sick, but the whole thing is based on simplicity, linking four very real people with something real. I got George to knock some nails into John’s head and took some sausages along to get some other pictures. I dressed them up in white smocks as butchers, and this is the result. The use of the camera as a means to ‘creating situations’”.
John Lennon was to later comment on the shoot:
“We took the pictures in London at one of those photo sessions. By then we were really beginning to hate it. Photo sessions were a real ordeal, you know. We had to try and look normal and we did not feel like it. The photographer was a bit of a surrealist, and he brought along all these babies, pieces of meat and doctor’s coats, so we really got into it, and that’s how we felt, you know”.
Robert Whitaker fashioned many of the iconic Beatles images. Of his life’s work he once stated:
“There were about 100 key movers and shakers in the ’60s and I was lucky enough to photograph most of them. Of course, my photographs of the Beatles have overshadowed everything else, but that’s OK.”
Robert Whitaker had a unique and personal acquaintance with the Beatles. He was able to spend time with Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr in their homes, he joined them when they went to the studio, he hung out backstage at their performances, and recorded intimate moments away from the public eye. In total he travelled for two years with the band in which time he formed strong friendships with the group, especially with John Lennon.
Robert Whitaker sadly passed away in 2011 leaving behind an impressive body of work, including photos of the Beatles and the Vietnam War, and of other bands and musicians such as Cream and Mick Jagger. Famously he took a photo with the camera angled up Salvidor Dali’s nostrils for a Surrealist effect. The photo was displayed in the UK’s National Portrait Gallery.
Robert Whitaker’s Photographic Career and Meeting The Beatles
Whitaker’s opportunity to work with The Beatles came about by chance, whilst he was in Australia when he had gone to an interview with a journalist friend, and met Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager. From there he travelled back to England and started to take pictures of the artists under Epstein's management.
Whitaker’s prints in the Proud Galleries collection capture other intimate moments with the band, including photos at the Donmar Rehearsal Hall and Abbey Road Studios, as well as group shots that were used for celebrated cover sleeves, For example the Farringdon Studio shoot was used in the Million Sellers EP in 1965. Photos shot at West Hampstead Studios in 1965 appeared on the bootleg copy of Silver Linings. Images from Chiswick Park were used for the Paperback Writer & Rain promotional videos.
A Shift in the Beatles use of Photography and Video to Promote their Work:
These promotional videos are worth exploring further as they represented a revolution in how the Beatles were marketing themselves and how they were seen. During this period they were touring less, and using videos to promote their works overseas. Instead of relying on the short studio videos that were being made by other artists, the Bealtes went out into the public space of Chiswick Park in West London, and shot two promos on 35mm full colour film.
As with their visionary and innovative experimentation in the recording studio, here they had the foresight and imagination to see the potential of these music videos to reach a wider audience and propel them across the globe to their fans.
The films haven’t lost their energy with age. They are still fun and still feel very raw and unedited compared to today’s slick pop promos.
The print we have here at Proud Galleries ‘In Chiswick Park’ is actually seen in the video, with Paul McCartney in the foreground, John Lennon and George Harrison in the middle, all with their signature guitars. Amusingly, Ringo Starr spends much of his time throughout the films, leaning on a large Grecian style pot, or sat tapping his fingers - he is completely without his drum kit.
It is worth noting here that photography was a major factor driving the momentum of change in 60’s popular culture. The 60s and 70s are often referred to as a “Golden Era of Photography”. Photography was elevated to an art form, alongside painting and sculpture and it crossed a divide between fine art and the mainstream. Capturing modern stars who became the icons and pop ‘royalty’ of their day. During this time photographers started to work on their own, rather than solely for a print publication, where strict rules had to be followed. They were liberated to find their own style and choose how to frame their subjects. As they started to capture their world in alternative ways, to challenge the establishment view and to unpick the record labels’ carefully styled public images of their talent. Photographers inevitably changed the way the world saw their rock and roll stars.
The World’s Ongoing Fascination with the Beatles:
Even today, the Beatles tunes continue to be revered, remixed and sampled, and young people still worship the band and have their own favourite Beatles album.
Images of the Beatles are sought after and valued and over the years, numerous unseen photos have appeared out of cardboard boxes, long forgotten in attics, never before seen shots of gigs and concerts, photos from various halls and venues have fetched hefty price tags at private auctions and every decade there are new publications and biographies, with a particular niche obsession for John Lennon - the first Beatle to be sadly and tragically lost.
For real fanatics, the Disney channel has recently released Get Back. A miniseries of three two to three hour programmes featuring unseen footage of the Beatles recording their album Let It Be over a 21 day period in 1970. Directed by the award winning Peter Jackson, it showcases the creative genius of this inimitable band only a few years after Whitaker captured the four close friends in ’64 and ’66, and already so much has changed between them. Although the warmth and camaraderie is there, tensions are clearly emerging, and there is discomfort over the presence of John Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono.
If you’re not, however, a Beatles fan, then you might fail to see the in-depth voyeuristic appeal of a documentary like Get Back. To help you understand the full impact and importance of the Beatles and Beatlemania you would need to step back into the socio-political context of their time.
The Impact of the Beatles on Popular Culture and Style
The 60s and 70s are often seen as two of the most important decades of the 20th Century. Decades when the world changed so dramatically that our modern age would be unimaginably different without them.
In 1962, when Epstein began managing the Beatles, England was undergoing a powerful social upheaval. National service was ending, new commercialism had been born, the teenager had been created, and there was a new young generation that didn’t conform, or want to be told what to do. Their rebellion against their elders defined them.
Epstein helped the Beatles find their own look, and then helped them adapt with the times.
In the sixties, they had mop top hair, wore collarless shirts, skinny ties and slim trousers, black Chelsea boots and Pierre Cardin Suits. They kept their hair a bit longer, and the look became the staple of the new Mod style. It was distinctly British and came with a rebellious attitude, a flippant humour and a freedom of spirit that kickstarted their popularity.
Later in the Beatles’ career their look would define the Summer of Love and the zenith of the hippie movement in 1967, when men grew their hair longer, wore bold colours and prints and long flowing kaftans. The Beatles were amongst many famous musicians who experimented with transcendental meditation, mysticism and their studio albums reflected their exploration. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, recorded in 1967 is a key milestone in British psychedelia. An abstract and eclectic mix of music genres, incorporating British vaudeville, music hall, Indian and Western classical music, with sound effects and tape manipulation creating an uplifting and inspiring orchestral album that is studied today for its cross generational impact on music and youth culture at the time.
The Impact of the Beatles on the Way Music was Sold:
Before the Beatles most music was sold on 45s - with a single on each side and maybe an extra filler. The Beatles decided to fill in the blanks and pushed the album concept forward.
The amount of material that the Beatles recorded in the 60’s is truly staggering compared to modern artists today and yet their work retains its value. This is partly due to the fact that the other benefit of developing the album concept was the opportunity to showcase unique artwork and photography. As previously mentioned the Whitaker ‘Butcher Sleeve’, if you have one of the rare originals, will sell for several thousands today. One of the most valuable album covers is the Capital Records special edition of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s estimated to be worth around £70,000.
The Beatles Impact on the Modern Music Video:
If you haven’t seen A Hard Day’s Night, filmed in 1964, you should seek it out. The way that it was shot, filmed on the streets of London and interwoven with the album’s hit tracks as the soundtrack, with surrealist scenes that didn’t quite follow any kind of linear plot, set a new benchmark for music videos and captured the phenomenon of Beatlemania that the group was living in. It is undoubtedly the precursor to the modern music video, without which we wouldn’t have MTV and all the pop stars that has launched. Interestingly, MTV declared Richard Lester, the director of A Hard Day’s Night, “The father of the modern pop video”.
The Ongoing Influence of John Lennon and Paul McCartney post-Beatles:
As the Beatles progressed so did their experimentation, the combined genius of Paul McCartney and John Lennon as songwriters and their unusual strength for both melody and lyrics powered the group forward to produce an unprecedented creative output over the next decade. They entered uncharted territory in music production, experimenting with sound effects and samples and technological innovation that elevated them above the pop music genre they inhabited.
Their close vocal harmonies, subtle arrangements, and clever production touches, combined with a solid rhythm section rooted in Starr’s straightforward drumming, created a new standard of excellence in a form of music previously dismissed as light and meaningless. Their worldwide album sales are estimated to exceed 600 million (and that is probably an underestimate).
The Beatles started a revolution in music, fashion and surpassed their own expectations to become arguably the most influential band of all time.