Rare Photos Candidly Capture Beatles

Photo: Past masters. Stephen Goldblatt's photos of the revered pop group present a more intimate view than is often seen, as they wander around town unfettered. The photos are on display in UC Berkeley's North Gate Hall.
ęStephen Goldblatt, UCB Graduate School Of Journalism/Courtesy
Past masters. Stephen Goldblatt's photos of the revered pop group present a more intimate view than is often seen, as they wander around town unfettered. The photos are on display in UC Berkeley's North Gate Hall.


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There was something unusual about John Lennon's wiry glasses in the photograph hanging in North Gate Hall. The iconic round lenses reflected a dim, honeycomb-like pattern, almost as if he had "kaleidoscope eyes." "Must be the tiles on the ceiling," a passerby muttered. Well, sort of. That's only half the story. Turns out, as photographer Stephen Goldblatt relates, the tile shapes were part of the geodesic dome that Paul McCartney had installed in his home. Ah, so that explains the adjacent photograph of the Fab Four sitting in an oval room, with McCartney cross-legged holding a joint next to his beloved dog Martha ("Martha My Dear"). "Did you smoke with them?" someone asked. "No, the question is did he inhale," interjected another. "Deeply," responded Goldblatt with dry English humor.

"A Mad Day Out, 1968" is a photography exhibit, which will be running through January inside the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, chronicling the July weekend in 1968 during the production of the Beatles' White Album. But for those fortunate enough, this past Friday provided the opportunity to hear the photographer comment on his experience while also revealing 75 additional photographs that will not otherwise be shown. Stephen Goldblatt should be a familiar name to movie buffs, as he was nominated twice in the category of cinematography for "The Prince of Tides" and "Batman Forever." But before his cinematic endeavors, Goldblatt was hired at the age of 23 by Apple Corps publicist Derek Taylor (who reportedly timed his work route precisely to reach the peak of his acid trip on his arrival) to shoot the Beatles alongside renowned war photographer Don McCullin. A precocious chap, one might say, but Goldblatt doesn't take himself too seriously: "I don't know if I was a son-of-a-bitch, but I was certainly determined."

So too do the photographs contain an air of goofiness and whimsy. Without security enforcement, the Beatles moved around town in helter-skelter fashion, arriving at different public settings entirely unannounced while also intermingling with pedestrians. What resulted from this stop-and-shop was pure shenanigans: a shirtless McCartney wrapped in heavy-linked chains posing as some type of martyr in front of a boat; the Beatles huddled around a feigning-dead John Lennon (quite an eerie premonition, as Goldblatt notes); the gang next to an unsuspecting man on a bench reading a newspaper (he looked up briefly and went back to his reading); Ringo with a boot on his head (that just says it all). But amidst the tomfoolery are poignant, candid moments as well - a back shot of Lennon and Yoko lovingly arm in arm; the gang's four faces slightly concealed by a thick brush of flowers. Stories about the Beatles abound, and these pictures are proof that the emergence of new tales never ceases to fascinate us.

What is hard to believe is that even as the Beatles have been transformed into a scholarly subject, with countless books documenting information from romantic relations to recording equipment (even right down to the nitty-gritty details of what exact guitar was used on that exact session date), there are still pictures, and information for that matter, that have eluded the public eye. Even more incredible is that these negatives had been stored away for 40 years completely untouched - that is, until Ken Light, who runs the documentary photography program at the UCB Graduate School of Journalism, got his hands on them. Light was responsible for scanning and enlarging the negatives along with the help of Pictopia, and ultimately harvested a collection of 25 black-and-white prints that are currently on display.

The beauty of these photos indeed lies in their stripped-down quality, glimpses of the Beatles minus the show. Goldblatt explained that because McCullin already carried the tag of esteem, McCullin was the one directing the Beatles towards his own lens. Meanwhile, Goldblatt shot as a sort of sideman, with an angled rather than head-on visual field to give the impression of an insider's peak. "I wasn't the one the Beatles were really playing to. They were looking at Don. When a photographer becomes a voyeur, he becomes the eye." The observer gets to inspect without feeling intrusive, and the relationship to the photos becomes one of benign intimacy rather than contrived set-up.

Following his discussion, Goldblatt entertained questions for diehard Beatles fans as best he could. "What was John like?" Really sweet and gentle, said Goldblatt. "What was the group dynamic at the time?" "Who did you like best?" But not all questions were answerable. One woman asked, "So if you were to smoke acid ..." and was immediately cut off by a roar of laughter. The crowd may have been older, but apparently they weren't jaded. "We're all craving for stories," shouted another audience member. Goldblatt certainly wasn't able to detail every moment, but the 25 prints will satisfy the curiosity of stumbling wanderers and avid fans alike.


Hang out in Paul's geodesic dome with Justin at [email protected]



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