Brain Pickings

Harry Benson’s Luminous Black-and-White Photographs of The Beatles, 1964-1966

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From pillow fights to world domination, or what Beatlemania has to do with Jesus Christ.

The past year has been a boon for seeing The Beatles with new eyes — from their tour manager’s never-before-published tour photos to Linda McCartney’s tender portraits to rediscovered vintage children’s books — but count on Taschen to up the ante on any cultural trope. The newly released The Beatles: On the Road 1964-1966 is a lavish collection of hundreds of Harry Benson’s luminous black-and-white photographs of the Fab Four at close quarters — from ecstatic encounters with fans to quiet moments in the recording studio to playful boyish frolicking.

Benson’s own Beatle story is an unlikely one — in 1964, while boarding a plane for a foreign assignment in Africa, he got a call from the editor of London’s The Daily Express and was dispatched to Paris instead, with The Beatles, to document French Beatlemania. Personable and warm, Benson was quickly welcomed into the Fab Four’s inner circle. At the cusp of their exorbitant global celebrity, he managed to capture some of their most intimate and genuine moments on film. (That famous photograph of The Beatles having a pillow fight at the George V Hotel was his.) From their first visit to the U.S., complete with New York hysteria, to their adventures on the set of A Hard Day’s Night to their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Benson was there to capture it all, even the impact of Lennon’s controversial comment that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus Christ.”

An introductory essay by Benson himself, complete with newspaper clippings from the era, adds first-hand context to the remarkable photos. He writes:

These photos convey a really happy period for them and for me. It all comes down to music, they were without a doubt the greatest band of the 20th century, and that’s why these photographs are so important.

Images courtesy of Taschen / © Harry Benson

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