ACT NATURALLY
The Photography Of
Ringo Starr

Interview by Phil Alexander

If Paul and John were singing in the studio, that means I’d already done my parts and I was hanging around, which is also probably why I spent time taking a few shots,” smiles Ringo Starr, reflecting on a striking portrait of Lennon and McCartney captured in Abbey Road’s Studio 3 in February 1968. “I shot that using a prism lens. These days everyone can get that effect, but back then it was pretty far out.”

Photo © Ringo Starr

The shot is just one of 240 photographs that appear in Starr’s new book, Photograph, which is published by Genesis Publications in a sumptuous hand-bound volume over a limited run of 2,500. The lion’s share of the photographs were taken by Starr during his time in The Beatles and provide an intimate insider’s view of the most famous band of all time

“It’s another way of doing the autobiography,” he says, flicking through roughs on a tablet in the boardroom at Apple’s West London HQ. But Ringo’s photos are just part of the lavish presentation. The 15,000 words of captions from the man himself provide further insight into the events he lived through, beginning with his illness-blighted childhood at 10 Admiral Grove, the Dingle. Cue bleak, monochrome visions of a Britain The Beatles would help drag into the modern age.

We talk through Ringo’s 20th year for MOJO’s 20th Anniversary edition. Significantly, 1960 is the year when Richard Starkey becomes Ringo Starr and makes a break for it as a professional musician with Rory Storm And The Hurricanes. In Hamburg with the latter, he is immediately impressed by The Beatles’ frontline of John, Paul and George Harrison (“I just wanted to play with them”). And so he did, joining them in the summer of 1962 – and as The Beatles began their ascent, Ringo caught the shutter bug.

“If you look at shots of The Beatles, we always seemed to have a camera or a cigarette in our hand.”

“Ordinary people didn’t have cameras before the ’60s,” recalls Ringo. “But I got interested in photography as things started happening with The Beatles and, in a lot of cases, the shots that are in the book are just about being there. If you look at shots of The Beatles, we always seemed to have a camera or a cigarette in our hand. We also spent a lot of time together, and we’d go away on holiday together to places like Tobago, or Florida. In fact, the shots in the book from Florida are on a boat that I ended up crashing into the jetty! But there are a lot of shots that I took of those kind of moments where we were just being normal and enjoying ourselves.”

In addition to innumerable candid shots of The Beatles at their most relaxed, Photograph extends beyond the group’s lifespan, incorporating Ringo’s acting career and the first incarnation of the All-Starr Band. Now on its twelfth line-up, the group includes Todd Rundgren and Steve Lukather, and there’s a thirteenth incarnation due to emerge next year.

“People always ask me what I want to do and the answer is simple: play,” says Ringo. “That’s all I've ever wanted to do and that’s what I continue to do. I'm still doing what I love doing.”

As Ringo keeps one eye on the future, we ask him to turn the other to the past and talk us through some of Photograph's most revealing selections…

John Relaxes, Awkwardly

Paris, January 1964

Ringo: “John had this incredible knee joint! Look! How do you get your leg in that position? Try it! You simply cannot do it. But that’s how he used to sit. I love this shot because of the angle of his leg. I think he’s holding a box of Epic records that just got sent to him. This is when I first got into taking photos. We saw a lot of hotel rooms at that point but we could still get out then and pretty much do what we wanted. We were conquering the world, but there was still a sense that we could get around without being hassled. Of course, that changed.” Photo © Ringo Starr

Brian Epstein Wigs Out

America, February 1964

Ringo: “Brian's really laughing in this shot, which is rare. When we got to New York there were Beatle wigs, [American DJ] Murray the K and a lot of things that were just incredible to us. We saw a lot of hotel rooms again, of course, smoking endless cigarettes. But we were there relaxing when Brian just stuck the wig on. It wasn't set up and that’s why, when you look at the shot, it could've been sharper – but it was just a moment that happened and which I happened to capture. The wig doesn't look much like Beatle hair really. But it didn’t have to because in those days everyone’s hair stopped here [indicates above the ears] and they all thought we were long-haired crazies anyway, so that wig did the job. Especially in America.” Photo © Ringo Starr

A Beatle's Eye View Of Touring

America, February 1964

Ringo: “All of these shots were taken out of the car. It was so exciting for us because we were in the land of all the music we loved. It was like 'Wow!' It was even incredible to see a cop car so I took a shot. I love this shot of the kids crammed in the car too. Look at this guy [points to the man at the very back, top right of shot]. What is he seeing? When we first went to America, there was one day at The Plaza hotel where all four of us ended up sitting in the bathroom because everyone in the entire hotel wanted a piece of us. ‘Can I get a photo with you?’ ‘Can I get this? Can I get that?’ It was just a poignant moment to me where we were sitting there chatting to each other. As far as the rest of the world was concerned we had everything, but we were just sitting in bathroom looking at each other going, ‘How are you feeling? OK?’” Photos © Ringo Starr

Paul And John... And A Fish Eye

India, 1966

Ringo: “I don’t remember the very first shots I took with a fish eye but these were really early. This one was done on small film, which means that you don’t get the full circle [from the fish eye], which is a drag. But they still look pretty good. This is the first time we went to India, not when we went with the Maharishi. We stopped in Dehli on the way back from the Philippines, and the British Airways people took us around. When you get to India you realise you don’t know what's going on. We did have a good time in India and I suppose this shot is pretty atmospheric.” Photo © Ringo Starr

Psychedelic... Dancers

Chez Ringo, 1967

Ringo: “Substances came into play in the ’60s. I used to make my own slides with oil, water and coloured liquid. You would put them in a projector and the heat would start the liquid moving like it does in a lava lamp. Then I would project them, really big, onto a wall. After a couple of tokes, it would be like ‘Wow! Far out!’ You can see the people dancing in the costumes, can’t you? There’s a whole deal going on down there. For me, it’s people dancing. I’m not sure what it might look like to you.”Photo © Ringo Starr

SELF PORTRAIT

London, 1968 or '69

Ringo:“That’s a shot of me I did on a timer. I did quite a few of those at different times. I would also look for weird film to see what would happen, which is what I used for this. Is it infra-red? I’m not really sure. I never did it in a particularly professional way. I’d just put whatever the film was in the camera, keep the F-stop on whatever it was on, the speed would be wherever I’d put it, and I’d just shoot stuff. I think this was taken at my home at the time in Highgate.”Photo © Ringo Starr

On Peter Seller’s Boat

Sardinia, 1968

Ringo: “This is when I’d left the band because I couldn’t stand it anymore and I was in Sardinia. Peter Sellers lent me his yacht. On that trip, that’s when I wrote Octopus’s Garden. This shot was worked out on a timer with my son, Zak. We had a great time. I didn’t crash the boat this time because Peter actually had people to drive it – which was a wise move.”Photo © Ringo Starr

A Portrait Of Eric Sykes

A Hard Day’s Night Set
London, March 1964

Ringo: “[Comedian] Eric Sykes came to visit the set of A Hard Day’s Night and he let me take his photo. But doesn’t that look like a real photo? Doesn’t it? Really professional! I’m very proud of that shot. Why didn’t I take any other portraits of people? Because I never really thought about it. I got lucky with a couple of shots like this one. I suppose with this one, the lighting was great. Then again, we were on a film set so that did help. Eric was a really nice guy, though. A very funny man. I loved taking that photograph and I enjoyed spending a bit of time with him.”Photo © Ringo Starr

Ringo On The QE2

On the Queen Elizabeth 2 from Southampton To New York, May 1969

Ringo: “All the sailors were from Liverpool so I went down to their quarters. I was with [Magic Christian author-screenwriter] Terry Southern, who became a good friend, and we were on our way to the Bahamas. The QE2’s crew band had a little stage in their hangout room, so I got up and played with them. They played a Beatles number and I didn’t stop in the right place, where it had a break, so they turned and shouted at me. I said, ‘I don’t remember them all!’” Photo © Ringo Starr

Fire!

Bennett Street, London, circa 1972

Ringo: “I didn’t get up in the morning and think, Oh I must find a fire to photograph today. Things just happened and I just took photos of the things around me. This is taken out of my office window [on St James’s Street, overlooking Bennett Street]. Something went on fire and I was there to capture it. I like the guy at the back. He’s standing there with his hands on his hips like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ There doesn’t seem to be a rush to put this out.”Photo © Ringo Starr

Ringo Photograph Book

Starr Time!

Photograph, by Ringo Starr, the signed limited edition book of 2,500 copies is available from RingoPhotoBook.com, Tel: +44 (0)1483 540 970. It costs £345. Proceeds go to the Lotus Foundation, an organisation that funds, supports and promotes charitable projects aimed at advancing social welfare in diverse areas which include substance abuse, cerebral palsy, brain tumours, cancer, battered women, homelessness and animals in need.