Ger­man pho­tog­ra­pher helped craft style of the early Bea­tles

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - OBITUARIES - By Hil­lel Italie

NEW YORK — Astrid Kirchherr, the Ger­man pho­tog­ra­pher who shot some of the ear­li­est and most strik­ing im­ages of the Bea­tles and helped shape their trend-set­ting vis­ual style, died Tues­day at age 81.

She died in her na­tive Ham­burg, days be­fore her 82nd birth­day, her friend Kai-Uwe Franz said.

Her death was first an­nounced by Bea­tles his­to­rian Mark Lewisohn, who tweeted Fri­day that Kirchherr made an “im­mea­sur­able” con­tri­bu­tion to the group and was “in­tel­li­gent, in­spi­ra­tional, in­no­va­tive, dar­ing, artis­tic, awake, aware, beau­ti­ful, smart, lov­ing and up­lift­ing.”

The Ger­man pub­li­ca­tion Die Zeit said she died of a “short, se­ri­ous ill­ness.”

Kirchherr was a pho­tog­ra­pher’s as­sis­tant in Ham­burg

and part of the lo­cal art scene in 1960 when her then-boyfriend Klaus Voor­mann dropped in at a seedy club, the Kais­erkeller, and found him­self mes­mer­ized by a young Bri­tish rock group: The five raw mu­si­cians from Liver­pool had re­cently named them­selves the Bea­tles. As she later re­called, Voor­mann then spent the next few days con­vinc­ing Kirchherr to join him.

“It was like a merry-gor­ound in my head, they looked ab­so­lutely as­ton­ish­ing,” Kirchherr later told Bea­tles bi­og­ra­pher Bob Spitz.

Kirchherr had dreamed of pho­tograph­ing “charis­matic” men and found her ideal sub­jects in the Bea­tles, es­pe­cially their bassist at the time, Stu­art Sut­cliffe, a gifted painter. They quickly fell in love.

The Bea­tles in the early 1960s were noth­ing like the smil­ing su­per­stars the world would soon know, and they seemed to have lit­tle in com­mon with Kirchherr and her friends, young ex­is­ten­tial­ists dubbed “Ex­ies” by John Len­non. The rock group fa­vored black leather and greased back hair. The James Dean looka­like Pete Best was the Bea­tles’ drum­mer, and Paul McCart­ney was play­ing gui­tar, along with Len­non and Ge­orge Har­ri­son. (Best was re­placed in 1962 by Ringo Starr, and McCart­ney moved over to bass when Sut­cliffe left and be­came en­gaged to Kirchherr).

Her love af­fair with Sut­cliffe was trag­i­cally brief.

Sut­cliffe died at 21 of a cere­bral hem­or­rhage in 1962. Kirchherr mar­ried twice, but both mar­riages ended in di­vorce, and she would say she never got over Sut­cliffe’s death.

“He was, and still is, the love of my life,” she told NPR in 2010.

ASTRID KIRCHHERR

Ge­orge Har­ri­son, left, Stu­art Sut­cliffe and John Len­non of the Bea­tles pose for a por­trait.

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