Photographer Robert Whitaker, known for the infamous Beatles’ raw meat photo shoot, has died at the age of 71 of cancer.
The album cover of “Yesterday And Today” (1966) featured a photograph taken by Whitaker of The Beatles in butcher smocks covered in slabs of raw meat and a beheaded baby doll perched on Paul McCartney’s shoulder. It created a firestorm of controversy and the album was immediately pulled from the marketplace by Capitol Records when distributors complained that it was offensive. 750,000 copies of the record were in warehouses ready to be shipped but it’s estimated that only 25,000 copies of the album were actually sold with the original cover, ultimately making it one of the most collectible albums in rock history.
Rather than destroy all the sleeves, Capitol instead chose to slap a much more conservative photo of the lads posed around a steamer trunk over the original art and then re-issue the records to retailers. It didn’t take long for fans to figure out how to peel the trunk photo off to reveal the Butcher photo underneath, which eventually lead to a cottage industry of professional peelers. A collectors’ jargon evolved to distinguish “First State” (original uncovered version), “Second State” (paste-over version) and “Third State” (peeled) copies.
Whitaker proudly took credit for the cover concept saying that the idea was entirely his own…
though he was never consistent in explaining it. Sometimes he said he was not sure why he had posed the Beatles that way; other times he said the butcher theme was meant to suggest that the Beatles, so worshipped by their fans, were real flesh-and-blood people. On another occasion he said the image was to be one of three that would tell a story.
Among the other rock stars and artists that Whitaker photographed were Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Allen Ginsberg, Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Eric Clapton. But it was his iconic photos of The Beatles that brought his vision to millions and millions of people and for which he will be best remembered.
Whitaker with George Harrison. Photo by Whitaker.
Allen Ginsberg, Hyde Park 1967