Classic photos of Beatles to be sold

Ringo Starr

Mike Mitchell/Christie’s/AP

Beatles Paul McCartney (left) and John Lennon and perform Feb. 11, 1964, at the Washington Coliseum during the group’s first U.S. concert tour. Beatles concert photos will be auctioned by Christie’s in July in their sale “The Beatles Illuminated: The Discovered Works of Mike Mitchell.”

NEW YORK -- It was 1964. Beatlemania ruled. Two days after their momentous debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the Fab Four boarded a train from New York for Washington, D.C., for their first U.S. concert. An enterprising 18-year-old Mike Mitchell was there, a press pass in hand, shooting photographs just feet away and even jumping onto the stage for the group's brief pre-concert press call.

Forty-seven years later, Mitchell has made 50 silver gelatin prints from his negatives of the event Feb. 11, 1964, at Washington Coliseum and of the band's Sept. 13, 1964, performance at the Baltimore Civic Center. He's offering them for sale at Christie's New York auction house on July 20. The total pre-sale estimate is $100,000; the images will be sold individually.

Mitchell laughs when he describes the scene at the indoor arena that night -- not only of screaming fans but also of his unrestricted access to the stage. No cordoned-off media pens, no tight security.

"It was a long time ago. Things weren't that way then," the 65-year-old said in a telephone interview from Washington, where he lives and works as an art photographer. "It was as low-tech as the concert itself. The concert was in a sports venue and the sound system was the sound system of a sports venue."

Equally astonishing is how few other photographs from that first concert exist. Simeon Lipman, Christie's pop culture consultant, said it's not clear why, but he said Mitchell's black and white photographs were remarkable for their quality.

"They're very close-up, very animated. The light is very interesting. They're very intimate shots," Lipman said

In addition, Beatlemania was at its peak, so much so that the Beatles stopped performing live in 1966 -- their last concert was in Candlestick Park in San Francisco -- "because they couldn't hear themselves sing. The girls were so hysterical," Lipman said.

Mitchell stored the negatives all these years in a box in the basement of his home. For the silver gelatin prints in the auction, he used digital technology to do "much better 'darkroom' work that could ever have been done in a traditional darkroom."

The batch of prints, showing the Beatles in their early signature mop hairdo and suit and tie outfits, also will have a nearly invisible "secret moniker" that will not be used for any other of his images, he said.

Cathy Elkies, Christie's director of iconic collections, said the auction is pricing the collection "in an attractive way" for two reasons: Mitchell was not an established photographer at the time and the auction house wants to appeal to a wide base of fans and collectors. But she expected bidding to exceed the estimates, saying, "Beatles fans are fierce. To uncover this trove of images that's never been published will really excite people."

The photographs will be displayed at Christie's London galleries June 11-12, and then at several other London venues before being shown July 11-20 at Christie's New York prior to the auction.