Photographer Robert Freeman, whose work included some of the Beatles’ most recognizable album covers, has died at the age of 82.
Freeman began his career shooting images for the British newspaper The Sunday Times. His work caught the eye of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who commissioned the budding artist for a group portrait in 1963.
Thus began a long-lasting working association with the Fab Four. Over the years, Freeman would shoot and design the covers for many Beatles’ releases. In his book The Beatles: A Private View, the photographer remembered the session that produced the iconic Meet The Beatles (aka With The Beatles) album art, his first cover shot for the band.
“Since the photograph was needed urgently, I had to improvise a studio situation in the hotel,” Freeman recalled. “The dining room was the most suitable location. There was a broad side light from the windows and a deep maroon curtain that could be pulled behind them to create a dark background. They came down at midday wearing their black polo-necked sweaters. It seemed natural to photograph them in black-and-white wearing their customary dark clothes. It gave unity to the image. There was no makeup, hairdresser or stylist–just myself, the Beatles and a camera.”
Freeman went on to explain the unique arrangement of the band members. “They had to fit into the square format of the cover, so rather than have them all in a line, I put Ringo (Starr) in the bottom right corner,” the photographer remarked. “He was the last to join the group, he was the shortest and he was the drummer! Even so, he still had to bend his knees to get to the right level–and look natural!”
The result was one of the most recognizable and imitated covers in rock history. Freeman would go on to craft the images for more of the band’s albums, including Beatles For Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul. His work even expanded beyond photography, as the artist contributed ideas for the band’s posters and promotional materials, while also designing the end credit sequences for the Beatles’ first two films, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!.
Freeman also shot the first Pirelli Calendar and later dabbled in filmmaking. The photographer suffered a severe stroke in 2014, at which time his family sold several pieces of Beatles-related memorabilia to support his recovery.
News of Freeman’s death was confirmed by the official Beatles Twitter page.
Ringo Starr also took to Twitter to express “peace and love” to Freeman and his family.
“Dear Robert Freeman has passed away. He was one of our favourite photographers during the Beatles years who came up with some of our most iconic album covers. Besides being a great professional he was imaginative and a true original thinker. People often think that the cover shot for Meet The Beatles of our foreheads in half shadow was a carefully arranged studio shot. In fact it was taken quite quickly by Robert in the corridor of a hotel we were staying in where natural light came from the windows at the end of the corridor. I think it took no more than half an hour to accomplish.
Bob also took the Rubber Soul cover; his normal practice was to use a slide projector and project the photos he’d taken onto a piece of white cardboard which was exactly album sized, thus giving us an accurate idea of how the finished product would look. During his viewing session the card which had been propped up on a small table fell backwards giving the photograph a ‘stretched’ look. Instead of simply putting the card upright again we became excited at the idea of this new version of his photograph. He assured us that it was possible to print it this way and because the album was titled Rubber Soul we felt that the image fitted perfectly.
I will miss this wonderful man but will always cherish the fond memories I have of him.