By Hayden Wright
More than fifty years ago, an eighteen-year-old named Mike Mitchell shot photos that captured the energy and promise of the Beatles before they reached the stratosphere of pop fame. Now, a collection of his images titled The Beatles Illuminated will hit the auction block at Christie’s.
Mitchell first took photos of the band at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964 — two days after their legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. He shot them again two days later at the Baltimore Civic Center.
“To me, this concert was an opportunity to do portraits, and to get an up-close look, to really see who these guys were,” Mitchell said in a video to promote the collection. “Many Americans emerging from the sleep-walking ’50s 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.”
Selected prints from Mitchell’s collection were auctioned in 2011 but the images remain rare and largely unseen, even among diehard Beatles fans. The newest auction includes Mitchell’s entire archive of negatives as well as their full copyright. As the band redefined the intersection of pop and rock, Mitchell felt challenged to portray them in a new way.
“I was very motivated to come up with stuff that was as unique as could possibly be,” he said. “I looked and noticed that nobody was up on the stage. I thought, ‘I wonder what it would be like to be up on the stage and see what I could get up there?'”
The auction house claims Mitchell’s distinctive eye and his reliance on natural light (he couldn’t afford a flash) make this collection one-of-a-kind.
“This is an incredible archive. The unique combination of perspective and light sets them apart from any other Beatles photographs of that period,” said Auctioneer Paul Fairweather.
Watch Mitchell discuss the photos and check out the iconic images here: