With Stuart Sutcliffe
Soon after her first encounter with The Beatles, Kirchherr and Stuart Sutcliffe began a relationship and fell deeply in love.
It was very hard for all of us. Klaus liked Stuart a lot, and Stuart had a conscious hurt about falling in love with me and hurting Klaus.
By November 1960 they were engaged to be married. The following month George Harrison was deported from Hamburg for being under-age. The rest of the group returned to Liverpool.
By this time Sutcliffe had left the band to continue his art studies in Hamburg, though they kept in close contact.In February 1961 he borrowed money from Kirchherr to fly back to Liverpool, and that summer took her to see his family and home city.
Sutcliffe’s headaches and blackouts led Kirchherr’s mother to arrange for German doctors to carry out checks on him, though while living at the family home in Hamburg his condition worsened. On 10 April 1962 he was rushed to hospital in an ambulance, with Kirchherr by his side, but he died before they arrived.
He died in my arms on that journey. I cannot say it was unexpected but the suddenness… the loss to me was great, and to anyone who knew him, because he was a genius, with a great mind and an original talent as an artist. He would have been outstanding, if he’d lived.
Three days later she met The Beatles at Hamburg airport and told them of Stuart’s death. She fell into depression in the months afterwards, and was comforted by John Lennon. He told her: “Come on, make up your mind, live or die. Stop sitting at home – it won’t bring Stu back.”
Beyond The Beatles
In 1964 Kirchherr became a freelance photographer. With her colleague Max Scheler she took a series of behind-the-scenes photographs of The Beatles during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night, commissioned by the German magazine Stern. She also took the cover photograph for George Harrison’s first solo album, 1968’s Wonderwall Music.
Kirchherr found it hard to become accepted as a photographer in the 1960s, and claimed to have taken very few images since 1967:
Every magazine and newspaper wanted me to photograph The Beatles again. Or they wanted my old stuff, even if it was out of focus, whether they were nice or not. They wouldn’t look at my other work. It was very hard for a girl photographer in the 60s to be accepted. In the end I gave up.
She worked as an adviser on the 1994 film Backbeat, which chronicled The Beatles’ time in Hamburg and the relationship between her and Sutcliffe. Kirchherr was impressed with Stephen Dorff, who played Sutcliffe in the film.
I got the shock of my life… He’s the right age, but when he looked up, and I saw this shadow, my arms were geese pimpling. The way he talked, the way he smoked, his gestures, were just like Stu’s. I was very impressed.
She has published a series of photography, and her work has been exhibited in Hamburg, Liverpool, Bremen, London, New York City, Washington DC, Tokyo, Vienna, and at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.