She Was 1st Photographer of The Beatles: ASTRID KIRCHHER

By SnapSquad - May 31, 2020


Hamburg, Germany 1960 an English band is performing in a cramped basement club, the Kaiserkeller. Not the safest place to hang out when you are a young woman of only 22; then again, when you are an art student and your boyfriend wants to act cool and ask you to come, you tag along. On that night, Astrid Kirchher’s life took an amazing turn: on stage, four boys were going wild. They were John, Paul, George and Pete. A fifth man, the bass player, had his back to the audience; when he turned around, Astrid would later remember: “[…] I just thought ‘God – this is not true! No movement, nothing. Just this statue. That really knocked me out.”



The bass player was Stuart Sutcliffe and love stroke big time on that first night for both him and Astrid who became part of the Beatles’ band as their de facto photographer, their first photographer (friends usually snapped pictures of them).  She called their striking appearance “a photographer’s” dream. Their first photo-shoot happened in one of Hamburg’s fairgrounds, Hamburg Dom, with all five boys wearing leather black jackets, hair slicked-back, American rockabilly style. Astrid used a Rolleicord camera. 
Astrid followed Stuart back to Liverpool; they were engaged. Later, Stuart left the Beatles and the couple pursued art studies back in Hamburg. Sadly, at only 21, Stuart died of a brain haemorrhage in Astrid’s arms. He never saw the incredible success of his band mates.
By then, The Beatles looked quite different. Astrid had been not merely their photographer but also their friend whose fashion style had rubbed off on the boys. The young woman herself, greatly influenced by French existentialist Sartre, went for an all-black dress code with her blond hair cropped short. Stuart called it the ‘exis’ look, which he adopted for himself. It was Astrid herself who styled Stuart’s hair for the first time and later took care of Georges’ Harrison’s cut. Good-bye Brylcreem, with their ‘moptop’ hairstyle, the Beatles’ haircut was born!
In the years following the loss of her companion, Kirchher’s career as a photographer really slowed down. In 1964, she together with Max Scheler, she freelanced “behind the scenes” pictures during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night for Stern magazine. In 1968 Harrison asked her to arrange the cover of his Wonderwall Music album. The 1960s were difficult years for female photographers to be accepted as full professionals; Kirchher found it difficult to do any meaningful work other than photographing the Beatles. Every magazine only wanted her to take pictures of the hit band. In the mid-1990s she and business partner Kruger ran K&K, a Hamburg photography shop; they also helped arrange Beatle’s conventions and events around Hamburg. 
Strangely, until 1994 at Govinda Gallery, Kirchher published very few of her photographs. The Govinda exhibition was followed by the publication of several photography books about the Beatles with whom she had remained close, exchanging many letters with them over the years. When the 1994 movie “Backseat” came out, Astrid was played by actress Sheryl Lee and Stuart Sutcliffe by Stephen Dorff.
Of her too short life with Stuart, Astrid remembered he was “the man” her real love until the end. She died in her home in Hamburg on May 12th 2020. She was 81 when cancer took her life. Her death was first announced by Beatle’s historian Mark Lewisohn via twitter.  
Her early work has been exhibited in Bremen, London, New York, Washington DC, Tokyo, Vienna and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. When asked about her favourite photos she had taken of the Beatles she picked her shots of Stuart Sutcliffe by the Baltic Sea and Lennon and Harrison in her attic room. Of her relationship with the group she said “I suppose the most important thing I contributed to them was friendship.”





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