Why The Beatles’ unused ‘Abbey Road’ images mean more to me as a photographer than £180,000.

November 24, 2014

As seen in NME, The unused ‘Abbey Road’ images from the now iconic Beatles album cover shoot have sold for £180,000. These days with digital photography, tens, hundreds, even thousands of images can be made in a single shoot. Just six images were captured for the sleeve in 1969, five of the band on the crossing (including the chosen frame) as well as a scenery shot of the ‘Abbey Road’ sign. The photo session took 10 minutes.

For me, the takeaway here is that it is important to remember as a band, musician or any client for that matter, just why you have commissioned a professional photo-shoot. All too often after fulfilling a brief and images are chosen, I am asked if I can supply the rest of the shots from the session, in some cases un-edited files, free of charge. The question I pose is ‘just because we can shoot hundreds of pictures, should we?’ And, if we do, should they be simply passed on to a client no questions asked? Shooting film, as Iain Macmillan would have been doing at the time allows for 12 shots on a roll of medium format. I think that the amazing thing about this article is not the value that the remaining five images sold for, but how one single image from the six out of a 12 frame roll is now recognised the world over, adding to the fame of The Beatles and indeed Abbey Road itself.

Of course there will often if not always be discarded images consigned to the archives but this is only because they fell short of their intended purpose. All too regularly I see variations on images floating around the internet and in magazines. This weakens the power of the image, as is proven in the case of ‘Abbey Road’ and other similar examples. If we think of iconic images in the same way as the great actors like Charlie Chaplin, Steve McQueen, Audrey Hepburn, Jack Nicholson. They are incomparable. Unique. In the case of actors, you could argue that there are too many in the world today. The same goes for musical artists. Just who are our icons today that will be remembered the world over in years to come? Are there too many photographs in the world that don’t allow for the true iconic frames to stand out?

One of the reasons I have begun shooting film again is because it forces me to take the right pictures. Less is more.

A client hiring a photographer, we can assume, is doing so in order to secure several things. Of course, there are pre-requisites such as technical skill, style and their eye (all of which have likely taken years to hone and craft). Then there is the unseen by product. Reassurance. This is formed out of the feeling of trust imbued by the aforementioned qualities. This trust represents the clients belief that a photographer will fulfil their brief and supply an image or images that serve their needs.

Clients. Trust your photographer. Believe in the image they are making for you. Critical editing choices as to why one image is better than another will always be subjective. Of course we could easily agree ‘the customer is always right’. That said, if I am ordering wine and ask for a recommendation, that’s because I trust the professionals judgement. Similarly, if I am unwell, I trust my doctors diagnosis (hopefully it isn’t to lay off of the wine but I would if it was right for me).

Whilst I am not comparing photographers to sommelier’s or surgeon’s, what I am saying is that in the digital age, where everyone has a camera, trust the photographer you hired to get the job done. It might not be your Abbey Road and they most likely won’t be selling the unseen shots for £200,000 down the years, but if worth their salt they will do their absolute best for you. Even if you only give them 10 minutes

Image © Bloomsbury Auctions