For much of the 1960s they were the most-photographed quartet on the planet, but today rare photographs of The Beatles can be surprisingly lucrative. Behind-the-scenes snaps can command high prices at auction, and various books of Beatles pics have been issued in the years since they split up.
It’s relatively rare, however, for individual snappers to have spent considerable time with the Fab Four. Bob Bonis was The Beatles’ US tour manager between 1964 and 1966, and witnessed first-hand their whirlwind highs and lows in North America.
A modest, well-liked man, Bonis was trusted by The Beatles and became part of their inner circle. Fortunately for the rest of us, he was also a keen amateur photographer, and took a Leica M3 camera with him to capture life on the road.
In addition to The Beatles, Bonis worked with The Rolling Stones and various other touring acts in America, including Simon & Garfunkel, The Hollies, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Frank Sinatra. Although he granted a handful of interviews, the majority of the 5,000 photographs Bonis took remained in his private collection. He consistently declined to publish them or write his memoirs, a stance highly unusual among those connected to The Beatles.
After Bonis died in 1992 his son Alex established a company to release his archive to a wider audience. A book of his Rolling Stones photographs was published to great acclaim in 2010, and now follows The Lost Beatles Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive 1964-1966.
The Beatles were already unfazed by the presence of photographers by the time they arrived in America in February 1964, and were happy to play up to the cameras before eventually tiring of the attention. Candid shots of them at work or play, however, are less common. The Bonis archives offer a true behind-the-scenes glimpse of The Beatles as they relaxed, played, rehearsed and performed.
The Lost Beatles Photographs begins with some priceless treasures: tour passes, handwritten notes of thanks from The Beatles to Bonis, a one pound note signed by the quartet, and, most impressive of all, a silver Asprey writing pad set inscribed: “To Bob, thanks for everything, John Paul George Ringo 1966”.
The pictures of The Beatles are presented in chronological order, from the boarding of their flight from Seattle to Vancouver for their first Canadian concert on 22 August 1964, through to backstage shots at the Busch Stadium, St Louis, a week before their final concert. In between The Beatles grew in stature, from fresh-faced ebullient innocents eager to take on the world, to jaded men tired and frustrated at the cycles of aeroplanes, press conferences and scream-filled stadia.
As the clothes became more colourful, the hair longer, and the sleeplessness took its toll, Bonis was on hand to shoot it all – often from the side of the stage, with an unparallelled vantage point just yards from the action. The small details stand out: John Lennon and Paul McCartney trading guitar licks backstage, George Harrison and Ringo Starr picking fluff from their stage clothes, and Harrison tuning his guitar using a harmonica to get the right note. Even the most famous musicians in the world had to get themselves ready.
The images are accompanied by illuminating annotations by Larry Marion, who is credited as the book’s author. The book also contains a foreword by veteran broadcaster and writer Larry Kane, and a brief yet revealing 1989 interview with Bob Bonis in which we learn of The Beatles’ love of Monopoly and how their famously inane press conferences were often enlivened by questions from the road crew.
With Beatles photography books becoming more common with each passing year, it takes something special to properly stand out. The Lost Beatles Photographs is, in every sense of the word, outstanding. That these pictures were unpublished for 45 years remains mystifying, but their release is truly something to treasure.