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Astrid KIRCHHERR

 

Astrid Kirchherr (born 20 May 1938, age 80) is a German photographer and artist and is well known for her association with the Beatles (along with her friends Klaus Voormann and Jürgen Vollmer), and her photographs of the band's original members - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best - during their early days in Hamburg. Kirchherr met artist Sutcliffe in the Kaiserkeller bar in Hamburg in 1960, where he was playing bass with the Beatles, and was later engaged to him, before his death in 1962. Although Kirchherr has taken very few photographs since 1967, her early work has been exhibited in Hamburg, Bremen, London, Liverpool, New York City, Washington, D.C., Tokyo, Vienna and at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. She has published three limited-edition books of photographs.

 

Early life

Astrid Kirchherr was born in 1938 in Hamburg, Germany, and is the daughter of a former executive of the German branch of the Ford Motor Company. During World War II she was evacuated to the safety of the Baltic Sea where she remembered seeing dead bodies on the shore (after the ships Cap Arcona and the SS Deutschland had been bombed and sunk) and the destruction in Hamburg when she returned. After her graduation, Kirchherr enrolled in the Meisterschule für Mode, Textil, Graphik und Werbung in Hamburg, as she wanted to study fashion design but demonstrated a talent for black-and-white photography. Reinhard Wolf, the school's main photographic tutor, convinced her to switch courses and promised that he would hire her as his assistant when she graduated. Kirchherr worked for Wolf as his assistant from 1959 until 1963. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Kirchherr and her art school friends were involved in the European existentialist movement whose followers were later nicknamed "Exis" by Lennon. In 1995 she told BBC Radio Merseyside: "Our philosophy then, because we were only little kids, was wearing black clothes and going around looking moody. Of course, we had a clue who Jean-Paul Sartre was. We got inspired by all the French artists and writers, because that was the closest we could get. England was so far away, and America was out of the question. So France was the nearest. So we got all the information from France, and we tried to dress like the French existentialists... We wanted to be free, we wanted to be different, and tried to be cool, as we call it now."

 

The Beatles Photos

Kirchherr asked the Beatles if they would mind letting her take photographs of them in a photo session, which impressed them, as other groups had only snapshots that were taken by friends. The next morning Kirchherr took photographs with a Rolleicord camera, at a fairground in a municipal park called Hamburger Dom which was close to the Reeperbahn, and in the afternoon she took them all (minus Best, who decided not to go) to her mother's house in Altona. Kirchherr's bedroom (which was all in black, including the furniture, with silver foil on the walls and a large tree branch suspended from the ceiling), was decorated especially for Voormann, with whom she had a relationship, although after the visits to the Kaiserkeller their relationship became purely platonic. Kirchherr started dating Sutcliffe, although she always remained a close friend of Voormann. Kirchherr later supplied Sutcliffe and the other Beatles with Preludin, which, when taken with beer, made them feel euphoric and helped to keep them awake until the early hours of the morning. The Beatles had taken Preludin before, but it was possible at that time to get Preludin only with a doctor's prescription note, so Kirchherr's mother got them from a local chemist, who supplied them without asking questions. After meeting Kirchherr, Lennon filled his letters to Cynthia Powell (his girlfriend at the time) with "Astrid said this, Astrid did that", which made Powell jealous, until she read that Sutcliffe was in a relationship with Kirchherr. When Powell visited Hamburg with Dot Rhone (McCartney's girlfriend at the time) in April 1961, they stayed at Kirchherr's house. In August 1963, Kirchherr met Lennon and Cynthia in Paris while they were both there for a belated honeymoon, as Kirchherr was there with a girlfriend for a few days' holiday. The four of them went from wine bar to wine bar and finally ended up back at Kirchherr's lodgings, where all four fell asleep on Kirchherr's single bed. The Beatles met Kirchherr again in Hamburg in 1966 when they were touring Germany, and Kirchherr gave Lennon the letters he had written to Sutcliffe in 1961 and 1962. Lennon said it was "the best present I've had in years".All of the Beatles wrote many letters to Kirchherr: "I only have a couple from George [Harrison], which I'll never show anyone, but he wrote so many. So did the others. I probably threw them away. You do that when you're young - you don't think of the future." Harrison later asked Kirchherr to arrange the cover of his Wonderwall Music album in 1968.

 

Later life to present 

In 1967, Kirchherr married English drummer Gibson Kemp (born Gibson Stewart Kemp, 1945, Liverpool, Lancashire), who had replaced Ringo Starr in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. The marriage ended in divorce after seven years. She then worked as a barmaid, as an interior designer, and then for a musicpublishing firm, getting married for a second time to a German businessman. Kirchherr worked as an advisor in 1994 on the film Backbeat, which portrayed Kirchherr, Sutcliffe and the Beatles during their early days in Hamburg. She was impressed with Stephen Dorff (who played Sutcliffe in the film), commenting that he was the right age (19 years old at the time), and his gestures, the way he smoked, and talked were so like Sutcliffe's that she had goose pimples. Kirchherr was portrayed in the film by actress Sheryl Lee. Since the mid-1990s Kirchherr and business partner Krüger have operated the K&K photography shop in Hamburg, offering custom vintage prints, books and artwork for sale. K&K periodically helps arrange Beatles' conventions and other Beatles' events in the Hamburg area. She has no children, and now lives alone: ""My [second] marriage ended in 1985... I regretted I had no children. I just couldn't see me have any. But now I am pleased when I see the situation the world is in. I live alone and am very happy."

 

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