Friday 20 April 2018

Beatles' picture trove goes under hammer

Ula Ilnytzky in New York

It was February 1964. Beatlemania ruled. Two days after their momentous debut on 'The Ed Sullivan Show', the Fab Four boarded a train in New York bound for Washington DC for their first US concert.

An enterprising 18-year-old Mike Mitchell was there, a press pass in hand, shooting photographs just feet away and even jumping on to the stage for the group's brief pre-concert press call.

Forty-seven years later, Mr Mitchell has made 50 silver gelatin prints from his negatives of the event at Washington Coliseum and of the band's performance at the Baltimore Civic Centre in September. He's offering them for sale at Christie's New York auction house on July 20. The total pre-sale estimate is $100,000 (€70,000), with the images being sold individually.

Mr Mitchell laughs when he describes the scene at the indoor arena that night -- not only of screaming fans but also of his unrestricted access to the stage. No cordoned-off media pens, no tight security.

"It was a long time ago. It was as low tech as the concert itself. The concert was in a sports venue and the sound system was the sound system of a sports venue," he said.

Describing the photographs, which show The Beatles in suits and boasting their signature mop-top hairdos, Simeon Lipman, Christie's pop culture consultant, said: "They're very close-up, very animated. The light is very interesting. They're very intimate shots."

Mr Mitchell stored the negatives all these years in a box in the basement of his home. For the silver gelatin prints in the auction, he used digital technology to do "much better darkroom work that could ever have been done in a traditional darkroom".

The highlight of the sale is a backlit photograph of the band with light halos around their heads that Mr Mitchell shot at the press call while standing directly behind the Fab Four.

Cathy Elkies, Christie's director of iconic collections, explained that the auction was pricing the collection "in an attractive way" for two reasons: Mitchell was not an established photographer at the time; and the auction house wants to appeal to a wide base of fans and collectors.

But she expected bidding to exceed the estimates.

"Beatles fans are fierce. To uncover this trove of images that's never been published will really excite people," she said.

Irish Independent

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