THE I NNER LIGHT
RARE NEW PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE BEATLES’ FIRST US CONCERT IN 1964 SHOW THE BAND IN A NEW LIGHT.
Snow and frigid temperatures didn’t stop thousands of screaming teenagers from crowding into the Washington Coliseum in the nation’s capital for The Beatles first live concert on American soil. And not having a flash didn’t stop photographer Mike Mitchell, then just 18 years old, from using his unrestricted access to document that historic February night in 1964 using only the dim light in the arena. Ghostly shadows and streams of light filled some negatives. With the help of modern technology and close to 1000 hours in front of the computer screen, Mitchell was able to peel back decades of grunge and transform those old negatives into a rare, artful look at one of pop culture’s defining moments. Mitchell’s portraits of The Beatles are the centrepiece of an exhibition at the David Anthony Fine Art gallery in Taos, New Mexico until August 30 – the first time the prints have been exhibited since being unveiled in 2011 at a Christie’s auction in New York City. “Just amazing,” gallery owner David Mapes said as he looked around the room at the large black and white prints and wondered aloud what it must have been like to be in Mitchell’s shoes that night. It didn’t take long from the time The Beatles released their debut album in 1963 to go from a little British bar band to an international sensation. The Beatles’ reach eventually stretched beyond music and haircuts to religion and politics. “The Beatles came to represent some of the yearnings for peace and hope and equality and a larger social justice. In the United States and throughout the world, their personalities became as important as the music,” said Norman Markowitz, a history professor at Rutgers University. Mitchell can’t predict what role his photographs will play as historians and music fans continue to examine the evolution of American pop culture. Still, those moments captured by his camera that February night tell a grainy story of four young men who seemed to be having the time of their lives. Mitchell remembers how hot it was inside the coliseum. The crowd was deafening but the resonating bass beats were unmistakable. He said The Beatles were “on fire” that night. “They were really juiced. It was obvious at the time that they were really, really, really into it and I think the pictures really benefit from that,” he said. With no flash, he was forced to wait for the perfect time to snap that shutter. His photographs immortalised the important details of the moment in a bath of light while the rest faded into darkness. It was the concert that marked the beginning of his fascination with light. “I think that was the first time in my life that I had to really look more deeply at light and take my queues from what the light was doing,” he said. “I learned to sort of feel from the light.”
Paul McCartney and John Lennon on February 11, 1964, during The Beatles’ first live US concert at the Washington Coliseum
Ringo Starr during the same concert
The Fab Four during a news conference before their first live US concert
Mike Mitchell’s photograph of John Lennon in concert is part of a collection being shown at David Anthony Fine Art in Taos, New Mexico, until August 30