It was co-written by Starr and George Harrison, one of several songs the pair collaborated on in the early 1970s. They began writing ‘Photograph’ in the south of France in May 1971, on board a yacht, the Marala, which Starr had hired while attending the Cannes Film Festival.
Harrison and his wife Pattie joined Starr on the yacht. Also visiting was fellow Liverpudlian singer Cilla Black, who expressed an interest to record ‘Photograph’. She was reportedly told: “No, it’s too bloody good for you. I’m having it myself.”
Well, I was great at writing two verses and a chorus – I’m still pretty good at that. Finishing songs is not my forte. I have written songs with 26 verses, ’cause I didn’t know how to end them! I started writing ‘Back Off Boogaloo’, then took it to George to help finish off. Same with ‘Photograph’ and ‘It Don’t Come Easy’.
Time Out, 24 July 2003
In the studio
The first version of ‘Photograph’ was recorded in late 1972 during sessions for Harrison’s fourth solo album Living In The Material World. Also taped at the time was the single’s b-side, ‘Down And Out’.
‘Photograph’ was re-recorded in Los Angeles in March 1973 during the Ringo sessions, with Richard Perry producing.
The overdubs included saxophone by Bobby Keys, percussion by brothers Lon and Derrek Van Eaton, and orchestration scored by Jack Nitzsche. The latter was recorded at Burbank Studios on 29 June.
‘Photograph’ was released as a single on 24 September 1973 in the USA, and 19 October in the UK. The b-side was ‘Down And Out’.
A promotional video was filmed at Tittenhurst Park, Starr’s home, which featured him miming to the song while walking in the estate’s grounds.
‘Photograph’ was a smash hit, topping the singles charts in Australia, Canada, and the USA. In the UK it peaked at number 8, and it was a top 10 hit in Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, and West Germany.
‘Photograph’ also appeared on Starr’s greatest hits compilations Blast From Your Past (1975) and Photograph: The Very Best Of Ringo Starr (2007).
The song since became one of Starr’s signature songs, played regularly at his live shows. A notable performance was at the Concert For George tribute show at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 29 November 2002.
In 2013 Starr published a collection of his photography, naturally titled Photograph.