Beatlemania Revisited

Mike Mitchell—Christie's
Mike Mitchell—Christie's
The Beatles Illuminated, Lot 46

It’s been over 40 years since the Beatles released Abbey Road, their last recorded album, but the public’s fascination with the Fab Four has stood the passing of time.

Photographer Mike Mitchell, then 18 years old, shot the Beatles performing their iconic first concert in the United States at the Washington Coliseum. The concert occured just two days after the band’s momentous performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, a debut which drew over 74 million television viewers.

Looking back, Mitchell recalls, “to me, this concert was an opportunity to do portraits, and to get an up close look, to really see who these guys were! Many Americans emerging from the sleep-walking fifties saw the Beatles as very strange creatures indeed. Most of the establishment press treated them as mere novelty. My generation however felt an immediate connection with them and still do.”

The photographs in this auction portray the Beatles as they first arrive at Washington’s Union Station from New York, the concert at the Washington Coliseum, the press conference after the concert, and additional images from the band’s performance at the Baltimore Civic Center taken on September 13, 1964.

Speaking about his unprecedented access, Mitchell remembers that “things were different back then. There was no big security presence, the press wasn’t corralled and I was free to sort of embrace my own ambition.”

Strangely enough, the negatives taken by Mitchell were stored in a box in his basement for more than 40 years while he focused on a more artistic path of photography. Several years ago, as the recession and housing crisis hit the nation, Mitchell digitalized his archive.

The photographs in The Beatles Illuminated were up for auction at Christie’s on July 20, 2011 at 7pm EST. Mitchell’s one-of-a-kind silver gelatin prints fetched a surprising grand total of $361,938 (originally estimated at $100,000).

The auction’s biggest bids were on an image of the Fab Four from behind which sold for $68,500 (Lot 46) and another of John Lennon and Paul McCartney singing into the microphone, which went for $30,000 (Lot 41).

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