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Goodbye, Astrid

Astrid Kirchherr Self-Portrait (1960) – © Ginzburg Fine Arts/Photo: Astrid Kirchherr

I had an Astrid Kirchherr poster and one of her Beatles photos in the bedroom for most of my childhood and adolescence. I loved the refinements of her reflected face and the atmosphere of those shots. For many years I have been there with them, and it’s been just wonderful. But it all ends. Whenever we lose someone along the way, a relative, a friend, or even the subject of a poster, a piece of our existence always falls. After the departure of George and John, Astrid was the last of that trio to still give my posters a not entirely fatalistic image.

She was the first to immortalize The Beatles in a real posed photo shoot, giving us shots that have now entered history but were almost unknown until the ’90s, and she was also the only photographer allowed on the set of A Hard Day’s Night, the band’s first movie.

Astrid Kirchherr outside the Cavern Club in Liverpool (1964) – Photo: Max Scheler/Redferns

Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1938, Astrid spent the Second World War evacuated to the Baltic coast. Back in Hamburg following the war, when she meets the Beatles she is a student at the polytechnic and assistant to the famous photographer Reinhard Wolf. The “fabulous” meeting takes place in 1960, thanks to her friend and then boyfriend Klaus Voormann — who will later draw the cover of the seventh album by the Beatles, Revolver — at Kiserkeller, one of the many clubs on the Reeperbahn where young British bands were signed to a few brands to play Rock’n’Roll all night and entertain the many American soldiers stationed in the city after the end of WWII. At the time the bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the drummer, Pete Best, are still members. She dates and gets engaged with Stuart – who will soon leave the band to devote himself to painting —, then cuts his hair into the “moptop” style that will come to be a key look for the early Beatles.

After the experience with the Fab Four, Astrid worked as a stylist and interior designer and opened a photography shop. Sheryl Lee played Astrid in the 1994 film Backbeat, a biopic about the Beatles’ Hamburg days and her relationship with Sutcliffe, played by Stephen Dorff.

Astrid and Stuart (1961)
John and George in Stuart’s art studio at Astrid’s house (1962)

The other Astrid’s photo in my room, portrayed John and George in an attic looking to the light coming from a window. On the occasion of Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World documentary, Astrid told that 1962 touching photo session in Stuart Sutcliffe’s art studio at her house, soon after the death of Stuart by a brain haemorrhage, when he was just 21: John, totally immersed in his emotional pain, and George, looking like he’s comforting him.

Astrid is gone yesterday, 13 May 2020. From today, her poster and that photo seem to come together in a single destiny. How much it hurts to lose people like you, guys.

Astrid Kirchherr in Itzehoe, Germany on October 6, 2000 – Photo: Ulrich Perrey/AFP
Pete, George, John, Paul and Stuart on the Wagon (1960) – Photo: Astrid Kirchherr
John, George and Stu on the Truck (1960) – © Ginzburg Fine Arts/Photo: Astrid Kirchherr
John Portrait (1962) – © Ginzburg Fine Arts/Photo: Astrid Kirchherr
Paul, George and Ringo at the Pool – © Ginzburg Fine Arts/Photo: Astrid Kirchherr

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