Photos of Beatles’ first US concert to be auctioned

In 1964, an enterprising 18-year-old snapped pictures of the Beatles’ momentous first United States concert in Washington.

On Wednesday, Christie’s auction house will sell 50 silver gelatin prints that the photographer, Mike Mitchell, made from the negatives. The images, plus photos from another Beatles’ concert, are estimated to fetch a total of $100 000.

The Beatles played their first US concert at the Washington Coliseum on February 11 1964, two days after their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Mike Mitchell was there, shooting photos from just feet away and even jumping onto the stage for the group’s pre-concert press call.

Among the highlights is a backlit shot of the band that he took while standing directly behind them. Its pre-sale estimate is $2 000 to $3 000.

An image of an animated Ringo on the drums is estimated to bring $3 000 to $5 000. Christie’s said the shot depicts a rare moment where Ringo was both drummer and lead singer on a song written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, but made famous by The Rolling Stones: I Wanna Be Your Man.

Cathy Elkies, Christie’s director of iconic collections, said she expected the bids to exceed the pre-sale estimates.

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

Also included in the sale are photos of the band’s September 13 1964, performance at the Baltimore Civic Centre.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Mitchell described the rollicking scene at the Washington indoor arena — not only of screaming fans but also of his unrestricted access.

“It was a long time ago. Things weren’t that way then,” said the 65-year-old, who now works as an art photographer in Washington. “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.”

Equally astonishing is how few other photographs from that first concert exist.

Simeon Lipman, Christie’s pop culture consultant, said it’s not clear why there weren’t many other photos of the concert. He said Mitchell’s black and white photographs were remarkable for their “animated” and “intimate” depiction of the Fab Four.

Mitchell stored the negatives for years in a box in his basement. 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”.

Mitchell said he had not thought much about the photos until recently because he has been focused on developing a body of photographic work about light that took him on a different aesthetic journey. Until now, he added, the images “couldn’t be restored to the extent that they have”.

“They benefit from a historical perspective,” he said. — Sapa-AP

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Ula Ilnytzky
Ula Ilnytzky works from New York. Associated Press writer with focus on arts and culture in the NYC area

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