Iain Macmillan’s camera for sale

The Hasselblad camera

In an upcoming Bonham’s Entertainment Memorabilia auction, a number of Beatles related items are going under the hammer. Looking through the catalogue, we noticed several interesting lots associated with the famous cover session for the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album, including the camera which was used to snap these photos.

The camera in question, a Hasselblad 500C camera with Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2.8 lens, the viewfinder with applied lines similar to the Abbey Road zebra crossing, supposedly used by Iain to line up with on the day of shooting the cover, is sold together with the following: a Zeiss Distagon 50mm f/4 lens; a tripod; a number of accessories including filters; lightmetres; and a black Nikkormat camera with four interchangeable lenses; all housed in an aluminium camera case labelled IAIN MACMILLAN, and accompanied by a black and white photograph of Iain with the Hasselblad camera around his neck. All items come directly from the Iain Macmillan archive, and estimated sales price is evaluated to £ 2,000 – 2,500 (link to lot).

Having met John Lennon at the Indica Gallery with Yoko Ono in 1966, Lennon later invited Macmillan to photograph the Beatles for the cover of their final album ‘Abbey Road’. Given the Beatles recorded most of their music at the EMI Studios on Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London, they decided to name their last album after the road. Armed with a sketch Paul McCartney had given him a couple of days before of what the picture should look like, Iain knew he didn’t have long to get the right shot for the world’s most famous band.

On 8th August 1969, at around 11:30 am, a hired policeman stopped the traffic, Iain climbed up a large stepladder in the middle of Abbey Road and took just six pictures of the Beatles crossing the street. In approx 10 minutes Iain shot the band in various orders, but it was frame no.5 that was used for the cover of the album – the only photo where all four of them are striding in perfect formation.

“The whole idea was McCartney’s. A few days before the shoot, he drew a sketch of how he imagined the cover, which we executed almost exactly that day. I took a couple of shots of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road one way. We let some of the traffic go by and then they walked across the road the other way, and I took a few more shots. The one eventually chosen for the cover was number five of six. It was the only one that had their legs in a perfect ‘V’ formation, which is what I wanted stylistically.” – Iain Macmillan.

After the shoot, Macmillan went to find a road sign for use on the back cover. Over 50 years on, and the cover for “Abbey Road” by the Beatles is still undoubtedly one of the most iconic album covers of all time. Other items relating to the Abbey Road photo session were a couple of outtakes from the session, which all have been published online several times over.

But we were more interested in an outtake from the 1993 session with Paul McCartney, where Macmillan reprised his Beatles session by recreating the Abbey Road cover. The results were deemed unsatisfactory, but by cutting out Paul and the dog from the photo and pasting that into a recreated empty 1969 Abbey Road zebra crossing, the photo made the “Paul is live” album cover. Paul and Linda presented the photographer with two prints and an autographed promo photo. The prints were made of Macmillan’s unretouched photo, accompanied by the finished version.

The original but overexposed 1993 photo and the retouched version, which adds the 1969 background and also paints in the face of the dog.

The prints are lots #187 (the original 1993 photo £ 2,000 – 3,000), #188 (the resulting cover image, £ 2,000 – 3,000) and #189 (the promo card, £ 600 – 800), all signed by Paul and Linda.

Another funny thing about Macmillan’s camera is the viewfinder, where the zebra crossing lines have been added for the convenience of aligning the camera correctly to the motive.

The viewfinder of Macmillans Hasselblad. Our guess is that he painted in those lines for his 1993 recreation of the 1969 photo.

The auction also features other Beatles-related lots, including signed items as well as a fretless electric guitar which once belonged to George Harrison, and is thought to have been used for some of the songs on The Beatles “White album”.

Bonham’s Entertainment Memorabilia auction takes place in Knightsbridge, London, and online on October 13th, 2020.

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