Most of us have a box of old photographs up in the attic, probably hiding between tangled Christmas lights and the exercise equipment you bought with the best intentions.
Photographer Mike Mitchell definitely had some, which remained happily tucked away for almost 50 years. But unlike most people’s pictures, which usually feature questionable clothes and even more questionable haircuts, Mike’s were a little special.
So special they just sold for $362,000.
The reason? They featured some of the most remarkable photographs of the Beatles ever captured. The collection of 50 unpublished shots was taken during the band’s first American tour in 1964, as they rode the crest of the Beatlemania wave across the Atlantic.
Mike was just 18 back then, and a budding photographer living in Washington. Two days after their now-legendary appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, they arrived In Washington D.C to perform at the Coliseum. Mike captured their arrival at Union Station, along with the press conference preceding the performance, and was lucky enough to gain unrestricted, stage-front access for the whole Coliseum concert.
The photographs he took are astounding, and in many cases instantly iconic. It’s no surprise that they smashed their estimates during the sale at Christie’s on Thursday. In fact it would have been difficult not too, as in many cases they were valued as low as $500.
Mitchell’s $68,500 photograph
The low valuations illustrate a point about the art market which isn’t necessarily a good one – despite the obvious quality of the photographs, nobody had ever heard of Mike Mitchell. Apart from his family obviously, but major auction houses rarely take the opinion of an artist’s mum into consideration.
In a perfect world art would be valued purely on its quality, but we all know the art market better than that – never underestimate the affect of an artist’s fame on the final sale price.
Perhaps Christie’s didn’t want to put a high value on the work of a photographer with no track record. There were no previous sales to go by, and no known collectors, I reckon this made it almost impossible to value them correctly
But thankfully bidders could see past Mitchell’s relative anonymity, to the spectacular quality of his work. And he was rewarded with a sales figure more than three times the high estimate. The most stunning image, depicting the Fab Four from behind surrounded by halos of light, sold for $68,500 (above an estimate of just $2,000 – $3,000).
Whoever bought it got themselves a bargain. Because I think in years to come it will rank alongside Richard Avedon’s psychedelic portraits as one of the most famous Beatles photographs ever taken.
And people will definitely know who Mike Mitchell is then.
Image from: Christie’s