It was impossible not to sing along this afternoon while Stefanie Hempel, beautiful low voice, cheerful interpretation and ukulele, was tuning Here comes the sun and With a little help from my friend at Palazzo Fava. The german singer was a special gift for the first day of Astrid Kirchherr with the Beatles, by Genus Bononiae and Ono Arte Contemporanea, an exhibition for all of those who have a little Dear Prudence, Blackbird or Lucy in the sky gently tattooed in their hearts.
I’m one of them and I was also one of the many improvised Beatles’ scholars. When I was 17 I spent a couple of weeks eagerly reading their biography, with that typical sting of pain for not having been there. And among the many “there” of the history of the Beatles there’s Hamburg.
A seminal landmark for the band, the German city was the first time the Beatles actually stepped out of the Liverpool scene and the Cavern Club, to enter a transformation. At the time, Ringo Starr wasn’t part of it yet: it was John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe. They met Astrid Kirchherr, a beautiful, stylish art student and assistant of the famous photographer Reinhard Wolf, at a Hamburg club, and became more than friends.
She introduced them to the Existentialist movement and also contributed to a drastic change in their image: leather jackets and quiffs were soon replaced by a more sober and minimal black look, something already sported by Kirchherr and soon to became iconic of the early Beatles, before they embraced psychedelia.
In addition to this, Sutcliffe fell in love with the german artist and left the band to marry her and stay in Hamburg. Another member of the band, Best, proved in Hamburg to be somehow the weakest link, refusing to adopt Kirchherr’s style and, reportedly, to take the drugs she recommended.
However it wasn’t Astrid that sent Best away, but the band’s agent George Martin, in a somehow infamous page of the band’s story that eventually led to the entrance of Ringo Starr.
Despite being part of a member’s departure, Kirchherr remained great friends with all members of the Beatles and followed them on many occasions. What you can see in this beautiful nostalgic exhibition is the fruit of her work as an “intimate photographer”: a friend and a reporter of the group’s actions and evolutions. And vacations.
From Hamburg to Tenerife to the making of A hard day’s night, it is through her lenses that we witness the young faces of the Beatles while their fame, and their egos, are growing more and more.
The Exhibition of Palazzo Fava is articulated in two floors and also have some extra work from the german artist, as well as the inevitable (and always enjoyable) display of LP records.
Astrid Kirchherr with the Beatles
Palazzo Fava (Via Manzoni 2, Bologna)