Sixties Faces: Astrid Kirchherr

Well, that title is a bit misleading, isn't it? This entry is really about a woman who created facesor imagesthat still hold power over our thinking half-a-century later.

Astrid Kirchherr was a mere 22 when she met the as yet unfamous Beatles in 1960. They were playing in a dive in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg, Germany, and she saw something in them that inspired her artistic eye. The Beatles were young then (George Harrison was only 17), and they learned a great deal about life working and living in the red light district of Germany's "naughtiest" city...

When Astrid met them, the Beatles dressed like Liverpool Teddy Boyswhat we called Greasers here in the Statesand it was she who inspired them to change their looks. Astrid and her then boyfriend, Klaus Voorman (who later designed the Beatles' Revolver album cover) were part of a movement in Hamburg that called themselves "Exies", short for Existentialists. The Exis were artists who preferred to listen to Jazz, dress creatively, and followed the "life as art" philosophy. In retrospect, it's easy to see that they were a sort of link between the beatniks and the hippies, with a little mod thrown in. Come to think of it, I was more of this ilk in the Sixties!

There were five members of the Beatles back then. The fifth Beatle was Stuart Sutcliffe, John Lennon's friend from art college, and although he couldn't play very well, being John's friend was qualification enough to be in the band. Of all the Beatles (Lennon, Sutcliffe, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Pete Best), it was Stucliffe who caught Astrid's attention personally, and they fell in love. When the Beatles left Hamburg, Stewart stayed behind to be with Astrid and to go back to art college. He was already known in Liverpool as a brilliant artist, and he quickly started getting attention in Hamburg (you can see his art here). Before they left, however, the Beatles were photographed by Astrid. Soon after, she cut and styled Stuart's hair into what became known as the Beatle hairstyle, which Klaus and other Exies had worn for some time. Their clothing styles also influenced the Beatles' own, especially the black turtleneck sweaters.

Using natural lighting and interesting backgrounds, Astrid proved herself to no less artistic than the Beatles, with whom she has remained friends. Tragically, Stuart died of a brain hemorrhage in April of 1962, at the age of 22, the night before the Beatles returned to Hamburg just at the precipice of their worldwide success. The story of Astrid and Stuart is told in the 1994 movie, Backbeat.

Here are some of Astrid's photographs (click to enlarge):

George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe & John Lennon
Stuart & John
Paul & George
Pete, George, John, Paul & Stuart
The following are of Stuart and Astrid in their house:

Astrid took the following picture of John and George the day that they arrived in Hamburg in 1962, the day after Stuart had died unexpectedly. It was taken in Stuart's attic studio:

In a recent interview, Astrid said,
"When you see John's little face, it's so sad. He looks so lost sitting there, and there's this 18-year-old boy standing behind him looking so strong. I always get the feeling George is saying, 'Don't worry John, I'll be there with you'."
To see more of Astrid Kirchherr's work, simply perform an image search.