On the Beatles’ 1964 Australian tour the Australian Jewish News sent a 24-year old photographer named Robert Whitaker to cover the event. The band’s manager, Brian Epstein, was so impressed by the young reporter that he asked him to move promptly to London and take up a post as staff photographer for Epstein’s NEMS Enterprises.
Whitaker initially turned the role down but Epstein used the Beatles to convince him, sending Whitaker to see the Fab Four play at Royal Festival Hall. Whitaker remembered: ‘I got shoved into the orchestra pit, so I was right between the Beatles playing their music and these girls just screaming and fainting away. I couldn’t hear a damn thing, but I could see these girls and I thought, “I suppose I’m missing out on something here”’. Whitaker spent the next two years as the Beatles’ official photographer, following the group on tour, in the studio, in their homes and all over the world.
Perhaps the most infamous image Whitaker took for the Beatles was used for the ‘Butcher’ cover of the Beatles album Yesterday And Today. Depicting The Beatles in white butcher smocks with decapitated doll parts and pieces of meat, he intended the photo to be one part of a surreal triptych that would be his personal comment on the mass adulation of the group and the illusory nature of stardom. (John Lennon later explained it was ‘inspired by our boredom and resentment at having to do another photo session and another Beatles thing. We were sick to death of it’.)
The shot was used for promotional material for Paperback Writerin the UK without incident, but after Paul and John pushed for it to be an album cover and up to 750,000 copies of Yesterday and Today were printed for the Capitol Records release in the US, the negative reaction was immediate and all copies were recalled or pasted over with a new Whitaker cover featuring the band posed around a trunk.
With the trust of the band and unlimited access, Robert Whitaker captured some of the most intimate, candid and controversial photographs of the Beatles, his close relationship with the band often allowing him to push boundaries creatively. What has resulted is an extensive visual document of the Beatles; a portfolio that captures the band, the people, the lives and the fascinating time that was Beatlemania.
Main image: Lot 36. Robert Whitaker (1939–2011), Shea Stadium, 1965. Vintage gelatin silver print of the Beatles, signed and titled in pencil by the photographer verso, additional pencil annotations and Bravo label verso. 8 x 12 ins. (20.5 x 30 cm.) Estimate: £1,500–2,500