Photographer Robert Whitaker, best known for the hundreds of behind-the-scenes images and album cover shots he made of The Beatles from 1964 to 1966 when the band was rising to international fame, died September 20 in the UK. The cause of death was cancer, according to a UK Press Association report.
Whitaker was part of the Australian art scene in the early 1960s when he accompanied a journalist friend to interview Brian Epstein, the manager of The Beatles. At the time, the band was touring Australia and Asia. Epstein was impressed by Whitaker’s work, and invited him to accompany the band as a tour photographer.
Whitaker accepted, moved back to London where he had begun his career in the late 1950s (he was born in the UK in 1939), and went to work photographing various bands for Epstein’s management company, NEMS Enterprises.
Whitaker accompanied The Beatles on their second tour of the US in 1965, photographing them at their famous Shea Stadium concert, among other venues. From 1964 to 1966, he had almost complete access to the band while it was on tour and in the studio.
He is credited with several Beatles album covers, including the original–and highly controversial–“butcher” cover for the album Yesterday And Today. It showed the four Beatles dressed in lab coats and wearing false teeth while holding dismembered dolls and pieces of raw meat. The cover was quickly withdrawn amid public outrage and some speculation that it was intended as acerbic social commentary.
Capitol Records, the band’s record company, told the Associate Press that it was the band’s idea of “pop art satire.” John Lennon told an interviewer in 1980 that the band posed for the picture out of boredom at having to pose for yet another picture.
The image was replaced on the album cover with a photograph that Whitaker shot hastily in Epstein’s office of the band gathered around a trunk. Whitaker later described the replacement image as “far more stupid than anything else I could think of,” according to various accounts of the image. Copies of the album with the original “butcher” photo now fetch thousands of dollars on the Beatles memorabilia market.
Whitaker left NEMS when The Beatles took a break from touring in 1966. He stayed in London to photograph other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, and also covered news events–Including the Vietnam War–for Time and Life magazines.
Whitaker’s books include Eight Days A Week: Inside the Beatles Final World Tour (2008), Unseen Beatles (1998) and In the Company of Dali (2007), which is a collection of images he shot of the Spanish surrealist in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
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