Everyone knows “Ringo Starr, the drummer,” but not everybody knows that the former Beatle was also a photography junkie throughout his musical career. This largely unknown era of his life was explored in a short film called “Ringo Starr: Photographer” directed by Mark Seliger for Rolling Stone Films, an apt release considering that Starr’s book of photography, simply titled Photograph, was released earlier this fall.
Seliger’s film weaves a lot into 8 minutes: old photos dating back to Starr’s childhood and early days before the Beatles; Starr explaining a wide variety of behind-the-scenes shots of the four Beatles hanging out on vacation, on tour, in hotel rooms and in the studio; and the drummer even gives Seliger and the crew a few solos on his Ludwig drum kit.
Remarkably (and also unremarkably), Starr captured moments with unlimited access and trust—George Harrison goofing off in the studio, for instance, or a lady helping John Lennon pull a sea urchin out of his foot while the band was on a beach vacation. Starr provided an insider’s view into one of the most popular bands of all time, but he also shot from his own perspective as a bandmate. He didn’t hesitate to shoot back at paparazzi photographing him and the guys, or at fans who pulled up next to them in a car. The drummer’s consistent shooting from the very beginning also gives us a sense of time; there’s one photo in particular of Lennon wandering the streets of Paris amid a crowd, with no one taking notice. “Just months later, everyone would be at him,” Starr says in the film. “You didn’t have that freedom later on.”
While his style is fairly straightforward documentary, Starr also did some film and equipment experimentation during, of all times, the ’60s, which he found very fitting. “They did call [the ’60s] ‘mind-expanding,’ so…,” Starr says as he shows us photos with warped perspectives, shot with fisheye lenses and psychedelic gels.
“Ringo’s photography was exceptionally sophisticated for someone whose primary job was drumming in the world’s most famous band,” Seliger says in the RS article about the film. “I don’t separate Ringo the photographer from Ringo the drummer and songwriter. He is an artist through and through.”