Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Robert Whitaker (1939 – 2011)

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Robert Whitaker, the inadvertent father of one of the most sought-after Beatles memorabilia, is dead, aged 71. 

From his very first photo of The Beatles — that of McCartney and Harrison holding boomerangs — Robert Whitaker proved to be an abnormal photographer. With his unerring eye for the weird, Whitaker went on to craft many surreal images of the band at the height of their fame in the 1960s. Handpicked by the band’s manager Brian Epstein, Whitaker was reluctant to photograph the band until he saw it in concert and being ‘overwhelmed’ by the screaming fans of Beatlemania.

In three short years he covered the band, from 1964 to 1966, he complied a remarkable dossier, shooting the band at home, in recording studio, during private moments and in formal photo-sessions, often involving unusual props. In one session, he had the group holding a car spring, a sun parasol, a broom, and an umbrella to represent spring, summer, autumn and winter. And the Fab Four enjoyed his company and his creative mind, mainly because they were fed up with taking market-friendly publicity pictures.

But the most notorious use of props came in March 1966. Inspired by the German surrealist Hans Bellmer, Whitaker created the infamous butcher cover, which featured the group  with slabs of raw meat and the dismembered body parts of children’s dolls. He called it “Somnambulant Adventure” and conceived it as a triptych in which he would present The Beatles as religious icons, adding halos to the picture and referencing the story of Moses and the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. He wanted it to be a cynical commentary on adulation and stardom:

All over the world, I’d watched people worshipping them like idols, like gods. I was trying to show that The Beatles were flesh and blood”.

The photos were used in Britain without controversy, but when they were sent to America to be used at Capitol Records, the distributors refused to handle the record. While it was not the case, the fans viewed the cover as a commentary on Capitol Records’ periodic “butchering” and rearranging of The Beatles records. The retailers denounced the cover as “sick”. The band also was divided; Lennon and McCartney defended the cover, while vegetarian Harrison thought the whole idea was gross and stupid. Still concerned by the commercial backlash following John Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” comment, Capitol Records withdrew the cover and apologized. The rare original covers went on to become one of the most sought-after Beatles memorabilia.

Whitaker’s association with The Beatles ended soon afterwards. He never had the chance to finish his triptych, but he went on to become a key figure in London’s emerging counterculture, to create Cream’s seminal 1967 album Disraeli Gears, and to take a series of famous pictures of Salvador Dali, his lifelong idol.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

September 26, 2011 at 10:48 am

Posted in Culture, Obituary

Tagged with ,

5 Responses

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  1. […] ” All over the world, I’d watched people worshipping them like idols, like gods. I was trying to show that The Beatles were flesh and blood ” – Robert Whitaker. […]

  2. I have discovered your blog yesterday, since then I managed to reach December 2009 in the archive, just wanted to say you’re doing a great job!
    I knew a great deal of the photos, yet there is always something new that I find in the entries plus of course some of the pics and moreover the stories behind are total surprise.
    Keep the good work, greetings from Poland🙂


    September 28, 2011 at 9:10 pm

  3. Muslim foto is a Muslim related website where you can find collections of beautiful images . In Muslim foto website, you can find beautiful Quran quotes, Hadith and other religious things also.
    So, if you are looking for website where you can learn something, Muslim foto is the good website for you.


    November 18, 2011 at 7:59 am

  4. […] whose close partnership with Bob Dylan produced the singer’s most iconic photos and Robert Whitaker, who shot The Beatles’ butcher album cover. Gunther Sachs, bon vivant, playboy, and […]

  5. Check out more of Robert Whitaker’s photos http://www.robertwhitakerphotography.com

    Benjamin Whitaker

    January 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm

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