How a Photographer Landed a Beatles Photo on His First Assignment

Dennis Brack, a photographer from Black Star, had a lot of luck when he photographed The Beatles in front Of The Capitol.
The young, aspiring photographer, Ernest Mayer, who was one of the founding members of the agency, saw his portfolio in the autumn of 1963.

Brack recalls, “He looked at me and grunted a bit. He then asked me if I had any day job.” He replied that I was a second year law student when I told him I was. ‘”

Kurt Safranski and Ernest Mayer, all German Jews, fled Berlin under the Nazi regime to form the United States photo agency Black Star. It was founded in 1935. Time and Fortunepublisher Henry Luce were the biggest publishers of the day. They teamed up with the photo agency in order to create Life magazine. This magazine was the first American newsmagazine that featured all-photographic images. It dominated this genre for many decades.

Photographing the Beatles in Washington D.C.

Brack received a call from Phil Rosen on February 10, 1964. This was the day that the Beatles arrived in D.C. Phil wanted to cover the Beatles’ trip in Germany for two magazines.

“While The Beatles were looking at Washington Coliseum, they would play that night, I spoke to Harry Benson [who was to travel with The Beatles’ inaugural American tour] for my first time,” Brack explains. “Harry [b. 1929] asked me if i had a car.

“The Beatles had one limousine, but not enough room for Harry. He needed a ride. Harry instructed me to pull my car up to the bumper on the Beatles’ limousine.

The limousine took a sharp turn, crossed The Capitol Mall and stopped on its way to their hotel. The Beatles got out of the limousine and ran a few meters into the snow. The young photographer simply left his car at the intersection of the street and grabbed one camera. He then followed. Because it was cold outside, the group photo happened quickly and the Liverpool boys wanted their own pictures.

The Black Star photographer recalls that he made 16 frames. “Each Beatles looked at a different photographer. I can recall looking at my camera and saying, “Look right here.”

“No fill light, the negative is too heavy to print. The Nikon SP [Nikon’s first professional rangefinder] I was using had a 1/6th of a second sync–absolutely not a flash sync for bright sun or snowy days. This was taken on Kodak Tri-X 400, which was the most used camera by photojournalists ever since its introduction in 1954.

“This picture is my favourite because it almost seems to be an exclusive. Harry, Harry and I, along with one other photographer, joined the photo session. As the Beatles got back in their limousines, other Washington photographers ran towards our location.

Brack received the shot, put the film roll into an envelope and took it to Greyhound Bus Station where they could have small package shipping.

The photojournalist recalls that Howard Chapnick (1922-1996), the owner of Black Star [he purchased the agency in 1964] picked it back up the next day.”

A Career in Photojournalism is Starting to Take Root

Brack has taken thousands of photos with the Capitol background since that day. He has photographed Presidents, Popes, Senators and thousands of people. But the Beatles picture in front the Capitol is his favorite.

Brack graduated from law school and became a full-time member at Black Star, a premier picture agency that represented photographers. Black Star managed his TIME contract, marketed his photos, and solicited assignments for magazine and annual reports. There he worked for fifty-five year.

The photographer said that “I paid Harry back many times over.” “When I was in Washington at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral, during Gulf War, Harry would speak slightly higher and more hushed with a British accent. He would ask, “Denis, are you willing to do me a favor?”

Brack had contracted with Brack to construct a platform for the giant crane that would be used to take pictures of the MLK funeral. Harry wanted to be on the crane.

Dennis Brack was a Black Star Publishing Company staff photographer for 55 years, and a contract photographer for TIME. For twenty-five-years, he was a member on a five-member committee of the Still Photographers Gallery. Brack was also the President of White House News Photographers Association. His book Presidential Picture Stories – Behind the Cameras at The White House tells the story of 52 years covering the White House. He has interviewed many of the White House photographers over the years to get their stories from the beginning of the 20th century.

On his website, you can view more photos by Brack of The Beatles’ 1964 first concert in the United States at The Washington Coliseum. You can also find other photos in his gallery or on Instagram.