“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”

by Chris Murray on January 7, 2013

The Arts section of the New York Times started off the year with a bang, publishing a brilliant front-page story on photographer Henry Grossman and his remarkable photographs of the Beatles. The story is written by Allan Kozinn, who knows more about the Beatles amazing music than any other writer I know of.

I was introduced to Henry Grossman by our mutual friend David Friend, which led to my organizing Grossman’s first exhibition of his photographs of the Beatles at Govinda Gallery in 2008.

Paul McCartney in the Abbey Road studios during the recording of the Beatles’ album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, 1967. Copyright © Henry Grossman. All Rights Reserved.

The Beatles, Seen From Unusual Angles
By Allan Kozinn
January 1, 2013

When Time magazine first asked Henry Grossman to photograph the Beatles, at their American television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February 1964, he thought of it as just another assignment — a journey into the realm of teenage fads, and less exciting than the sessions he had done with world leaders, actors and opera singers. Mr. Grossman, who was 27 at the time, preferred classical music; at 76, he still shoots production photos for the Metropolitan Opera.

Pictures from the Beatles’ Sullivan show appearances are plentiful, but Mr. Grossman found unusual angles that provide a context missing from the most familiar photographs. For example, a previously unseen long shot, included in “Places I Remember,” an opulent new limited-edition book of Mr. Grossman’s Beatles photos, shows the group’s amplifiers — usually placed directly behind them, but unseen in the broadcasts — set up at the side of the stage, well out of camera range. All the camera positions can be seen as well.

“There were dozens of photographers there, all shooting exactly the same thing, but Henry caught views of the room that we’d never seen before,” said Brian Kehew, a recording engineer and musician who is currently touring with the Who as a keyboard technician, and who is also half of Curvebender, the publisher of Mr. Grossman’s book.
“He shot from the back of the balcony, and captured a sense of the theater’s size. And he went around behind the Beatles to shoot the photographers who were shooting them, which tells us a lot about the atmosphere of the day.”

The Sullivan show performance did not make Mr. Grossman a Beatles fan, but when he covered the group again, during its American tour that summer, he became friendly with George Harrison.

“After that,” Mr. Grossman said over lunch recently, “anytime I went to London, I’d check into my hotel, call their office to find out George’s phone number du jour — they had to change them, because the fans would find them out — and I’d arrange to spend a day with them. Often, I was in Europe to shoot something else, and I didn’t have a Beatles-related assignment.”

Between 1964 and 1968, Mr. Grossman took more than 7,000 photos of the Beatles, though only a few dozen — whatever editors needed for the articles at hand — were published at the time. The best-known is a formal portrait from February 1967, showing the band members before a blue backdrop, sporting mustaches (new at the time) and flowery clothes. Shot for Life magazine, it has become a ubiquitous poster. But Mr. Grossman rarely printed the unused pictures from his sessions and never thought to exploit them.

Probably for that reason, Mr. Grossman is rarely listed among the photographers most closely associated with the Beatles: a group that includes Astrid Kirchherr and Jürgen Vollmer, known for their gritty shots of the leather-clad Beatles during their early years in Hamburg; Dezo Hoffmann and Robert Freeman, who photographed them frequently in the early middle years of their career; and Robert Whitaker, who staged avant-garde shoots, including one that produced the quickly withdrawn “Butcher” cover (which showed the group in butcher smocks, draped in pieces of meat and decapitated baby dolls) for the “Yesterday and Today” LP.

“Places I Remember” may help change that. A boxed 528-page, silver-edged brick of a volume that weighs 15 pounds, includes about 1,000 photographs and costs $495 (or $795 for one of the first 250 copies, signed by Mr. Grossman, in an edition of 1,200), it is Mr. Grossman’s second book. In 2008 Curvebender published “Kaleidoscope Eyes,” another $495 limited edition, which documents in fine detail (and about 220 frames) an evening recording session for “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

Mr. Kehew and his partner at Curvebender, Kevin Ryan, discovered Mr. Grossman’s stash of images while researching their own 2006 book, “Recording the Beatles,” an intricate examination of the Abbey Road Studios and how the Beatles created their music. Searching for pictures of the band, they found a copy of Life magazine with some of Mr. Grossman’s photos from the “Lucy” session.

“We licensed two of them for our book,” Mr. Ryan said, “but we knew there had to more from that session, so we visited Henry in hope of seeing the rest of the images on that roll of film. As it turned out, he had taken 10 rolls that evening, which was mind-blowing. So we asked if he had other Beatles photos, and he went into his studio and came back with a stack of contact sheets 10 inches high.”

As Beatles specialists, Mr. Kehew and Mr. Ryan thought they had seen it all, but they were astonished by the depth of Mr. Grossman’s archives.

“They knew much more about it than I did,” Mr. Grossman said. “We were looking through pictures I took at John Lennon’s house, and Kevin said, ‘Oh my God — John used to say that he often sat in front of the television with the sound down, composing on his guitar, and here you’ve got it.’ ”

Also among their finds was a shot of Bob Dylan and the journalist Al Aronowitz outside the Hotel Delmonico in New York in August 1964, on their way to a meeting at which Mr. Dylan introduced the Beatles to marijuana. The next year, when Mr. Grossman photographed the Beatles filming “Help!,” he captured a jam session at an Austrian hotel bar in which John Lennon and Paul McCartney worked up a sweat bashing through some rock oldies.

And he happened to be photographing the Beatles and their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in Bangor, Wales, in 1967 when they learned that their manager, Brian Epstein, had been found dead of a drug overdose.

“It made no sense to us that there should be so many images of the Beatles that hadn’t been seen,” Mr. Ryan said. “But Henry had become friends with them, and he respected their privacy. And he wasn’t as star-struck by the Beatles as everyone else was.”
Actually, Mr. Grossman said, he was fascinated by how they reacted to their fame, partly because he had performing ambitions of his own. He had studied both acting and photography at Brandeis University, but got a head start on a career behind the camera by photographing visiting speakers, including E. E. Cummings, Marc Chagall, David Ben-Gurion and John F. Kennedy on the day he announced his candidacy for the presidency.
When Mr. Grossman returned to his native New York, he began freelancing, as well as occasionally acting in theater and studying singing. He never lost his taste for the stage: Having periodically sung as a tenor in opera productions in Houston and Washington, and having given recitals around the country and in Europe, he joined the cast of the Broadway musical “Grand Hotel” in 1989 and sang a few small tenor roles at the Metropolitan Opera in the early ’90s.

“I learned a lot from the Beatles,” Mr. Grossman said. “I was interested in how they took to fame, how they used it. It wasn’t easy for them. One night in Atlantic City, I asked Ringo how he liked seeing America. He took me to the window of his hotel room, pointed to a brick wall across the parking lot, and said, ‘That’s what we’ve seen.’ They were trapped.”

“I guess one reason we got along so well was that they knew I wasn’t trying to get anything from them,” Mr. Grossman said. “And I think I got the pictures I got because I wasn’t posing them. I wasn’t injecting myself into the scene as a participant. I was just watching. I was like a fly on the wall. I got what was there.”

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