A selection of rare signed photographs of The Beatles from behind the scenes will be exhibited at Mario’s Café in Fitzroy to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the bands 1964 performance in Melbourne.
Bob Whitaker was a key figure from the sophisticated end of what was to become known as the London ‘underground’. His photographs catch the nexus of creativity and excess that was Sixties London in all its psychedelic finery, its dazzling sophistication and its curious innocence.
Bob photographed the Beatles in a thousand moods, portraying them as raw and uneasy adolescents, a role that began in Melbourne. In three short years, between 1964 and 1966, Robert ‘Bob’ Whitaker managed to compile a remarkable photographic dossier on the 20th century’s most amazing musical phenomenon.
Whitaker and The Beatles began a three-year journey together that started with The Beatles’ famous 1964 visit to Australia, and culminated with Whitaker’s famous 1966 shot of the Beatles covered in meat, the infamous Butcher’s Sleeve (now a rare collector’s item due to being deemed distasteful and pulled from distribution shortly after its release).
English-born to an Australian mother, Whitaker had lived in Melbourne during the 1960s, where he came to discover his Australian roots, and did so among Melbourne’s creative cognoscenti – a young Martin Sharp (Oz Magazine), Georges and Mirka Mora, artists Arthur Boyd, John Percival, and Charles Blackman as well as Richard Neville, Barry Humphries and Germaine Greer names in his circle of contemporaries.
Art historian, David Melllor, believes that this three-year absence from London transformed him as a photographer.Whitaker was personally assigned as The Beatles official staff photographer by their manager Brian Epstein on the group’s 1964 visit to Melbourne, after managing to photograph Epstein for a piece in Jewish News.
“I photographed Epstein, saw he was a bit of a peacock and a cavalier, and put peacock feathers around his head in photographic relief” the late Whitaker recalled, “he was knocked out when he saw the picture.”
“After that, he saw an exhibition of collages I had at the Museum of Modern Art and immediately offered me the position of staff photographer…I initially turned it down, but after seeing the Beatles perform at Festival Hall I was overwhelmed by all the screaming fans and I decided to accept the offer.”
Whitaker went on to travel with the group for the following three years, enjoying unlimited access to John, Paul, George and Ringo, and pushing boundaries and buttons with his exploration of surrealism. Some of Whitaker’s well known Beatles photos include Umbrella, the portraits used to create the Klaus Voormann collage-illustration on the cover of the landmark 1966 LP Revolver (his first big claim to fame), the hugely famous Way Out portrait of George Harrison with girls screaming through a fence in the background.
Even beyond The Beatles, Whitaker’s life was full of remarkable roles that are impossible to summarise in one sitting. To touch on just a couple of his notable credits, he accompanied Mick Jagger to Australia in 1969 after meeting him during a shoot where Mick nicknamed him ‘Super Click’.
In Australia Whitaker photographed Jagger on location during the filming of Ned Kelly, later published under the title Mick Jagger Is Ned Kelly. Eric Clapton is another artist Whitaker worked with. He was also renowned for capturing acts just before they exploded, such as Australia’s Olivia Newton John and The Seekers.
As the sixties drew to a close he sought further challenges and travelled as a war photographer to Cambodia and Vietnam where he was injured by a land-mine, and subsequently retired to the English countryside. What makes Robert Whitaker’s story so interesting is its link to Melbourne. His role with The Beatles began here, and his life and career repeatedly saw him back here where his creative roots had been so firmly planted.
Although Whitaker passed away in 2011, his special legacy to this city remains with his Australian his friend and curator Roger Taylor, who in his own right is well known in the arts community for his long-running and award-winning arts program Gotham City Gossip on Triple R FM, as well as his current contribution doing the visual arts segment on PBS FM program The Breakfast Spread.
A man with his own list of credits, Taylor worked with Whitaker after they met at an exhibition in Brighton, England. He sees this exhibition as a celebration of not just Whitaker and The Beatles, but also of Melbourne. Taylor recalls Whitaker’s distinct ‘Australian-ness’ and remembers fondly anecdotes that weave in and out of this fair city, paying homage to Melbourne’s creative life-blood.
The Unseen Beatles
Mario’s Café, 303 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Exhibition: 21 May – mid June 2014
For more information, visit: www.marioscafe.com.au for details.
Image: The Beatles by Robert Whitaker