Robert Freeman, the photographer whose iconic photos and album covers of The Beatles had a major cultural impact, has died. No cause of death was given, but he had been ill for some time. His death was confirmed by official The Beatles’ Twitter page.
Freeman began his career as a photo journalist at the British newspaper The Sunday Times. He made an early impression with black and white photographs of several jazz musicians, including saxophonist John Coltrane, and that brought him to the attention of Beatles manager Brian Epstein. He commissioned Freeman for a group portrait in 1963.
The group shoot led to a long association with the four boys from Liverpool, including the design and photography for the album covers for With The Beatles (Meet The Beatles! in the U.S.), The Beatles For Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul. He also designed the end credit sequences for the Beatles’ first two films, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, as well as some of the graphics and photography displayed on the films’ posters and promotional materials.
Freeman later worked as a director on the films Swinging London and the cult film The Touchables, the latter featuring music by the original band named Nirvana. He was also the photographer for the first Pirelli Calendar.
One bit of Freeman trivia that has made the rounds is that his wife, Sonny, was the inspiration for John Lennon’s Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). She allegedly was having an affair with the songwriter at the time of its writing. The claim was backed by reporting in Philip Norman’s 2008 biography of Lennon and by Lennon’s ex-wife Cynthia Lennon in her own biography.
Freeman suffered a severe stroke in 2014 and his family sold some Beatles memorabilia to support his recovery.
Paul McCartney remarked on the passing of Freeman on his official blog:
Dear Robert Freeman has passed away. He was one of our favourite photographers during the Beatles years who came up with some of our most iconic album covers. Besides being a great professional he was imaginative and a true original thinker. People often think that the cover shot for Meet The Beatles of our foreheads in half shadow was a carefully arranged studio shot. In fact it was taken quite quickly by Robert in the corridor of a hotel we were staying in where natural light came from the windows at the end of the corridor. I think it took no more than half an hour to accomplish.
Bob also took the Rubber Soul cover; his normal practice was to use a slide projector and project the photos he’d taken onto a piece of white cardboard which was exactly album sized, thus giving us an accurate idea of how the finished product would look. During his viewing session the card which had been propped up on a small table fell backwards giving the photograph a ‘stretched’ look. Instead of simply putting the card upright again we became excited at the idea of this new version of his photograph. He assured us that it was possible to print it this way and because the album was titled Rubber Soul we felt that the image fitted perfectly.
I will miss this wonderful man but will always cherish the fond memories I have of him.
Ringo Starr and the official Beatles Twitter account also saluted Freeman.