Whitaker’s images end when the band stopped touring in the summer of 1966, but for the preceding two years he captured the Beatles in moments of happiness and humor, mischief and creativity, boredom and fatigue.
“We’ve used many of Bob’s seldom or never-seen-before photographs,” said Barbara Baker Burrows, director of photography for Life Books in New York. “He tried hard to catalog his work, and on a couple of trips to England I was able to encourage him to dig deeper into his files than he had done before.”
Whitaker’s access to the band came after he gained Epstein’s trust when the Beatles performed in Australia. Though born in Hertfordshire, Whitaker had moved to Australia and was already a photographer when the Beatles invaded the Southern Hemisphere.
The young photographer initially turned down Epstein when offered a job, but he reconsidered after seeing the group perform.
The close access he was to enjoy for those two years is what makes the photographs unique, said Burrows.
“Bob’s time with the Beatles was in an era quite unlike today when a photographer is lucky to get a few minutes with a subject,” she said. “He also had what Life photographers had -- the trust of his subjects, and their respect.”
Whitaker was thrilled by the prospect of the 300-page book’s publication, Burrows added, and he often said it was what kept him alive.
“Although he didn’t live to see the finished publication, I think that he would be pleased,” she said.
Though his time with the Beatles was likely a career highlight, Burrows said, Whitaker photographed Epstein himself and his other acts including Gerry and the Pacemakers and Cilla Black.
After the Beatles disbanded, Whitaker, who first picked up a camera as a child, had a successful run documenting the art world, photographing Salvador Dali and other luminaries.
But those other career doors were likely opened by the Beatles, a group that remains relevant to music and popular culture today.
“They mirrored the times, and helped create the times,” said Robert Sullivan, managing editor of Life Books. “Whether you think that was a service or a disservice to society, it was an extraordinary achievement, especially for what was, at bottom and in the beginning, a pretty gritty rock and roll band.”
BY NICK OLIVARI