In addition to being the most famous rock and roll drummer in the world from the most famous rock and roll band that ever existed, Ringo Starr has been a very talented photographer for most of his adult life. Indeed, since the Beatles all first got their own cameras around 1963/1964, Ringo has had an interest in photography and has taken scores of photos for his personal enjoyment. In 2013, he decided to open up his archives and release a collection through Apple's iBooks as well as an extremely limited edition hardcover book containing his pictures. I read the iBook and thoroughly enjoyed it, although it only contained a portion of what he'd released in the hardbound book. Luckily, this past month saw the release of the hardcover in a mass market edition so that fans of Ringo, the Beatles, and photography can now enjoy all of the pictures he's released.
While Ringo has famously said that he'll never write an autobiography because people are "only interested in eight years of my life (1962-70)," in Photograph he seems quite happy to focus the bulk of his photos on behind-the-scenes Beatles snaps. The book flows in chronological order from his birth in Liverpool in 1940 through his childhood and the beginnings of his musical career. Much of the material in this early section was collected and saved by his mother and found by Ringo many years later after she'd passed away while he was going through boxes in her attic. What's nice about the photos in this section is that they offer a glimpse as to what it was like growing up in post-WWII England...the houses, the clothes, the prices of common household goods, and how kids and teenagers dressed, acted, and had fun. There are even photographs of Ringo in hospital during his two illnesses, their council home rent book, and the hire purchase papers for his first drum kit. The photographs then trace his musical apprenticeship and his tenure in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes as they played in Liverpool and Hamburg, also documenting his budding friendship with the Beatles. The bulk of the book focuses on his tenure in the Beatles and the decade after their 1970 split. This is where the book really shines as these are shots taken by Ringo and could only have come from the camera of someone who was in the eye of the hurricane that was Beatlemania. Several of Ringo's Beatles photos have become very well known and been widely reproduced over the decades, but the most fascinating ones are those that appear mundane or unremarkable on first glance. Taken backstage, in hotel rooms, at home, on vacation, from the back of a car or while on a train, Ringo captured the sights and feel of the world around the Beatles as they toured America, the UK, Japan, and everywhere in between. Even better are the candid shots of John, Paul, George, Brian Epstein, George Martin, Mal Evans, and Neil Aspinall. Many of them are exquisite shots where the lighting and background just happened to be perfect, capturing them in playful, pensive, contemplative, or relaxed moods. Several shots are of the guys eating, drinking, smoking, listening to music, and doing normal everyday things that Ringo was fortunate to capture for posterity. He also took several pictures of the various photographers, such as Bob Freeman and Dezo Hoffman, who hung around the band in those earlier years as they themselves snapped photos of the Beatles. It's a bit jarring yet quite interesting to see his pictures of the Beatles and their wives on vacations between tours, when they could grow beards and let their hair and clothes get away from the Beatle "look" they had to keep up while in the public eye. Shots like these go a long way toward demystifying the band and showing that behind the great music and iconic fashions, at its heart the Beatles was a band made up of four normal guys who had a deep love and friendship for each other, who were all going through the same incredible experience together.
After the Beatles split, Ringo shares numerous photos of his life in the 1970s and 1980s, many including his closest friends like Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, and Joe Walsh (who is now his brother-in-law). This section of the book is not as large as the previous sections and speeds up rather abruptly from the late 1980s to present, but it's still nice to see these shots, including several of Ringo with George, Paul and Linda, Eric Clapton, George Martin, and others. As this is the closest the world will ever get to a Ringo autobiography, Ringo did a wonderful job telling his story in photographs. Accompanying the photos throughout are write-ups from Ringo offering his insight, stories, and the memories behind most of the pictures. In particular, the warmth and affection he has for his fellow Beatles, as well as Keith Moon, is quite revealing. His recollections of the real Moon and the sweet guy behind the madcap public persona of "Moon the Loon" was quite touching, especially as I'm a huge fan of Moon and the Who myself. If I do have a complaint about the book, it's mainly that the post-Beatles years are quite sparse in terms of the number of photos and that they are spread out a bit more haphazardly and not in as tight a chronological order as the previous sections. Perhaps Ringo wants to keep most of these pictures private, and that's certainly understandable as they're his personal property, but as a fan I would have liked to have seen more of them as they document his life as he's gotten older and reached the present day.
Ringo's Photograph book is a fun and engaging collection of photographs that any Beatles and Ringo fan will thoroughly enjoy. Photography books like this can tend to vary in terms of quality and readability, but Photograph is one the better ones in the genre. Flipping through this book feels as though you're sitting on a sofa looking through Ringo's picture albums as he sits next to you and tells you a story for each one; the effect is more like sharing memories with an old friend than simply looking through a book. The pictures are reproduced in very nice quality on glossy paper and Ringo's narrative greatly enhances the images. Photograph is one of the nicest Beatles books I've added to my library and would be a worthy addition to any Beatles fan's bookshelf.
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