Skip to main content

Beatles fans eye rare display of Fabs photos

By Naomi Canton, CNN
March 14, 2013 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
The Beatles are seen recording their seventh album, "Revolver," at Abbey Road Studios in April 1966 before embarking on a world tour. Revolver was released in August that year and went straight to No. 1 in the U.S. and UK. The Beatles are seen recording their seventh album, "Revolver," at Abbey Road Studios in April 1966 before embarking on a world tour. Revolver was released in August that year and went straight to No. 1 in the U.S. and UK.
HIDE CAPTION
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
Photographing The Beatles by Robert Freeman
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Robert Freeman was favored snapper of Beatles between 1963 and 1965
  • He photographed and designed five consecutive Beatles' album sleeves
  • Exhibition of his collection on display in London for first time in 20 years
  • Prints include only example left of one ultra large "Rubber Soul" print

London (CNN) -- The first solo exhibition in about 20 years of early photos of the Beatles taken by a British photographer who designed five of their UK album covers is on display in London.

Robert Freeman photographed and designed the Fab Four's second to sixth album covers and was the group's favored snapper for three years between 1963 and 1966 in their early and middle stages of fame. Freeman also traveled with the band on their momentous first tour of USA in 1964 when Beatlemania first spread across the Atlantic.

Freeman, who is now in his 70s and lives near Seville in Spain, sold his entire Beatles collection to rock 'n' roll photo curator and agent Raj Prem many years ago.

The 58-year-old Londoner has put up a solo exhibition of Freeman's work at Snap Galleries in Piccadilly Arcade, London.

"Someone gave me Freeman's number in Spain and I contacted him and flew over to see him," Prem says.

"I was so impressed by his collection of Beatles photos that I kind of did a deal and gave him some money and bought the entire collection. The increasing scarcity of the prints is making them go up in value all the time," he adds. "I did not know when I bought them that they would go up because I was at the beginning of my career -- I had no idea at all," says Prem.

Freeman made no more than 25 editions of each print and many editions are now almost sold out. He is not making any more prints, so for some of the photos on sale, there is just one example left -- signed and numbered by him.

"He was very close to Lennon," Prem says, explaining that Freeman even lived in a flat below Lennon in London for one year. Freeman also photographed and designed the covers of John Lennon's first two books, "In His Own Write" and "A Spaniard in the Works" too.

According to Prem, Freeman described Lennon as "highly creative, very witty and a very surreal person -- the most interesting of all the Beatles."

"But he did say to me once that he found Ringo Starr the most interesting to photograph as he's got a large nose and a face with a kind of pathos. He always said Lennon was the best looking," he adds.

After graduating from Cambridge University in 1959, Freeman became a photographer working for the Sunday Times and various magazines.

It was moody black and white pictures he took of John Coltrane at the London Jazz Festival in 1963 that impressed Beatles manager Brian Epstein that led to his first commission -- to shoot the cover of the Beatles' second album, "With the Beatles." It is now one of the most famous sleeves in rock music.

The increasing scarcity of the prints is making them go up in value all the time. I did not know when I bought these that that would be the case. I had no idea as I had not even started my career then
Raj Prem, London curator and agent

He proceeded to photograph the next four consecutive Beatles' album covers -- "A Hard Day's Night," "Beatles for Sale," "Help!" and "Rubber Soul" -- all considered seminal and ahead of their time compared to LP designs at the time. Some covers, like the music, were modified for the U.S. market.

"Freeman was not the only photographer who took pictures of the Beatles but he was the only one who worked with them for a continuous period of three years and he was their favorite photographer during that time," Prem says. "He toured with them. He was obviously a trusted confidante."

Freeman also shot many other rock stars and photographed the first ever Pirelli Calendar in 1964, but according to Prem his work with the Beatles "overshadowed everything else he ever did." 'With the Beatles' shot him to fame," Prem says. "'Please Please Me' was a very anodyne shot and was not so easy to recall as the following album." He puts the "With the Beatles" album cover among the top three Beatles album cover designs of all time, the others being "Abbey Road" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Freeman also took many other portraits of the boys in different settings capturing their individual personalities and he designed the opening and closing credits of the comedy films "A Hard Day's Night" (1964) and "Help!" (1965), both of which starred the rock group.

But when his proposal for the sixth album, "Revolver," was rejected, he pretty much stopped working with them after that, Prem says. "I don't think he was upset -- he felt it was inevitable. I don't think he stayed in touch with the Beatles after that. He continued with his other photography."

But he recalls: "Freeman was living in Hong Kong when Lennon was assassinated in 1980 and he told me that he had a photo of Lennon on his wall and it fell down at exactly the same time."

"What makes the Beatles unique is that their appeal is not purely nostalgic," Prem explains. "The Rolling Stones mean little now to anyone under the age of 30 whereas the Beatles are probably bigger now than they were at the time. When they went over on their first tour to the USA they got what was then the biggest audience in the history of American TV when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, " Prem adds.

Read about when the Beatles hit America

Japan and America are his biggest customer market for this collection, which has prints priced from $1,500 (£1,000) upwards.

"We've had a fabulous reaction from Beatles fans," says Guy White, the director of Snap Galleries.

"We've had all age ranges and people from all round the world coming to see us. As soon as the show went up, we found that all the Beatles and rock 'n' roll tours of London were including the gallery on their itineraries. We've had fans alongside serious collectors," he says.

"His five covers are so interesting because, putting it simply, they show five completely different ways of portraying four heads in a 12-inch square."

The most expensive print on sale is an ultra large size sepia print of Rubber Soul, the only one left the world, which is up for sale at $45,000 (£30k.)

In his coffee table book, The Beatles: A Private View, Paul McCartney is quoted as saying of Freeman's work: "I have a feeling that Bob's photos were amongst the best ever taken of The Beatles."

The exhibition Robert Freeman: Beatles for Sale continues at Snap Galleries, Piccadilly Arcade, London, until March 16, 2013. All the prints are from the Raj Prem collection.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
This looks like a ghost ship, but it's actually the site of a tense international standoff between the Philippines and China.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
The reported firing of artillery from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle, says CNN's military analyst Rick Francona.
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 0846 GMT (1646 HKT)
The young boy stops, stares, throws ammunition casings at the reporter's feet without a word.
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
A picture taken on June 28, 2014 shows a member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. The World Health Organization has warned that Ebola could spread beyond hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to neighbouring nations, but insisted that travel bans were not the answer.
The worst ebola outbreak in history spreads out of control in West Africa. CNN's Michael Holmes reports.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 0048 GMT (0848 HKT)
Sure, Fido is a brown Lab. But inside, he may also be a little green.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
ITN's Dan Rivers reports from the hospital where those injured by an attack in Gaza were being treated.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Photograph of an undisclosed location by Patrycja Makowska
Patrycja Makowska likes to give enigmatic names to the extraordinarily beautiful photographs she shoots of crumbling palaces.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
When the Costa Concordia and its salvage convoy finally depart Giglio, the residents will breathe a sigh of relief -- and shed a tear.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Flight attendants are wearing black ribbons to show solidarity with fallen colleagues in "a tribute to those who never made it home."
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT