Paul McCartney pays tribute to ‘wonderful’ Beatles photographer Robert Freeman

‘Original thinker’ behind the Rubber Soul and Help! album covers dies aged 82

Robert Freeman, the photographer behind some of the most famous early images of the Beatles, including the cover shots for the albums A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Rubber Soul, has died aged 82.

Paul McCartney paid tribute to Freeman by posting a lengthy online tribute, praising him as “one of our favourite photographers who came up with some of our most iconic album covers”. He added: “Besides being a great professional he was imaginative and a true original thinker.”

Freeman also worked on the final sequences of the first two Beatles films, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and took the cover photos for the albums With The Beatles and Beatles For Sale.

McCartney, 77, went on to detail how Freeman had created some of the best-loved pictures of the group: “People often think that the cover shot for Meet The Beatles! [US title of With The Beatles] of our foreheads in half shadow was a carefully arranged studio shot,” he said.

“In fact, it was taken quite quickly by Robert in the corridor of a hotel we were staying in where natural light came from the windows at the end of the corridor. I think it took no more than half an hour to accomplish.”

Robert Freeman created the Beatles’ album cover Rubber Soul.
Robert Freeman created the Beatles’ album cover Rubber Soul. Photograph: Alamy

The rows of headshots of McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon that appear like film frames on the front of A Hard Day’s Night were taken in Freeman’s London studio. He asked them to make new facial expressions for each photo.

This weekend, McCartney also described how Freeman came up with the distorted Rubber Soul cover portrait, which appears below the title logo designed by Charles Front.

“Bob’s normal practice was to use a slide projector and project the photos he’d taken on to a piece of white cardboard, which was exactly album sized, thus giving us an accurate idea of how the finished product would look,” wrote McCartney.

“During his viewing session the card, which had been propped up on a small table, fell backwards giving the photograph a ‘stretched’ look. Instead of simply putting the card upright again we became excited at the idea of this new version of his photograph.

“He assured us that it was possible to print it this way and because the album was titled Rubber Soul we felt that the image fitted perfectly.”

Freeman, born in London and educated at Cambridge, began his photographic career at the Sunday Times and first made an impact with black and white studies of jazz musicians, including the saxophonist John Coltrane. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, first commissioned Freeman to take a group portrait of the band in 1963.

Freeman later worked as a director on the cult Swinging London film The Touchables and was also the photographer for the first Pirelli calendar.

He suffered a severe stroke in 2014 and his family paid for his care and the preservation of his archive by selling a copy of one of his John Lennon portraits.

Bidding farewell, McCartney wrote: “I will miss this wonderful man, but will always cherish the fond memories I have of him. Thanks Bob. Love Paul.”


Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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