Still stars of the show

Naturally lit: Art gallery shows early images of the band, candid photographs taken with no flash

David Mapes loves the photograph in a very "Yesterday" kind of way.

The moody, black-and-white image shows Beatles drummer Ringo Starr days after the band's 1964 appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show," the TV program where American teenage girls screamed and fainted, and welcomed British rock 'n' roll stateside.

Mapes is an art gallery owner in Taos, N.M., and knows a one-of-a-kind work when he sees it.

"It shows Ringo at the Washington Coliseum. He's sitting there dressed in a hat, with a cigarette in his hand, rings on his fingers," Mapes said. "He's so contemplative. It's just such a natural moment captured on film."

The picture is one of 25 early images of the Fab Four for sale during a monthlong exhibition at Mapes' David Anthony Fine Art gallery in Taos. But the story behind the pictures is what sets them apart.

Photographer Mike Mitchell, then just 18, shot them without a flash in the dim light of the Washington arena. The result is a collection filled with ghostly shadows and streaming light, not to mention a rare glimpse of one of pop culture's defining moments.

Mapes tells the story:

"Mike was working as a photographer when he found out that the Beatles were coming to town. So he went over to a magazine and finagled press credentials, an unrestricted backstage pass. But he rushed to the show without a flash," the gallery owner said.

"So he made the best of things with his Nikon SP. He was horrified that he was having so much trouble without a flash. He did his best to use any ambient or stage light he could find."

Mitchell remembers how hot it was inside the coliseum. The crowd was deafening, but the resonating bass beats were unmistakable. He said the Beatles were "on fire" that night.

Mitchell said his goal was simple. He wanted to make great portraits of the Beatles while discovering a little more about who they really were.

With no flash, he waited for the perfect time to snap the shutter. His photographs immortalized the important details of the moment in a bath of light while the rest faded into darkness. It was the concert that marked the beginning of his fascination with light.

"I think that was the first time in my life that I had to really look more deeply at light and take my cues from what the light was doing," he told The Associated Press. "I learned to sort of feel from the light."

But at the time, the results of his hard work didn't pay off.

"The negatives were so dark they were hard to print with the existing darkroom technology," Mapes said.

They sat in a shoebox for 50 years, he said, until recent advances — and 1,000 hours in front of the computer — changed all that.

"The negatives were digitally scanned, and the new process allowed him to print them," Mapes said. "While he was cleaning them, a friend realized what he had in his hands. He hooked him up with the Christie's auction house. And the rest is history."

The display of the 25 photos, mostly large black-and-white prints, will represent the first time the works have been exhibited since their 2011 unveiling at a Christie's auction in New York. The top price was $68,500. Mapes' versions will sell for between $2,000 and $24,000 he said.

Mapes said one photograph of the four band members, their backs to the camera with a thin ribbon of light outlining their silhouettes, made him tear up.

"It brought back memories of that time," he said. "I was a teenager, and it was so much about love and everything was optimistic feeling."


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