Photographer, designer, and cameraman Robert Freeman is most famous for photographing and designing five of the Beatles' album covers, in addition to some other tasks he carried out on their behalf. After graduating from Cambridge in 1959, he became a professional photographer, with assignments for The Sunday Times and other magazines. One of his assignments was photographing jazz musicians at a London jazz festival, which led to a portfolio including portraits of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, and Coleman Hawkins. These were the photos he sent to Beatles manager Brian Epstein in the summer of 1963, after a friend who had filmed the group for Granada Television tipped Freeman off that the Beatles would make good photographic subjects.
In August 1963, Freeman was photographing the band at a booking in Bournemouth when, by chance, producer George Martin phoned Epstein to say that a photo was needed soon for the Beatles' second album, With the Beatles. Epstein asked Freeman to try, and by the end of the next day, Freeman had taken the picture for one of the most famous sleeves in rock history. The cover (actually a single photo, although it looked like a montage of four separate ones) was designed so that each of the four Beatles' heads was photographed in half-shadow, set against a solid dark background. This was a technique that had first been used on photos of the Beatles by their photographer friend Astrid Kirchherr in Hamburg at the beginning of the 1960s, although Freeman has written that it was "an extension of my black-and-white jazz photographs." A slightly modified version of the cover was used on the Beatles' first Capitol album in the United States, Meet the Beatles, which became their first chart-topping LP in America shortly after its release at the beginning of 1964.
Freeman would photograph and design their next four sleeves, all of which were well above the standard for pop and rock LPs of the time: A Hard Day's Night, Beatles for Sale, Help!, and Rubber Soul. A Hard Day's Night, for instance, was four rows of four headshots each of the four individual Beatles, set up as though they were frames from the movie. Beatles for Sale had rich autumnal colors and facial expressions that, inadvertently or not, seemed to express the Beatles' weariness as their fame and hectic touring schedules became overwhelming. Rubber Soul was one of rock's first psychedelic-tinged sleeves, their faces positioned at odd overlooking angles so that they were slightly distorted and elongated. Unfortunately, most of these sleeves were, like the music on the albums themselves, truncated and modified in their U.S. counterparts: A Hard Day's Night had only four large frames instead of 16 small ones, the Beatles for Sale cover went unused (although a shot from elsewhere in the sleeve was reused as the cover for The Early Beatles), and the Beatles were shrunk on Help! to accommodate lettering advertising the songs. The CD reissues of the Beatles' early catalog use the original British track configurations and Freeman artwork.
Freeman was not designated the Beatles' official photographer or any such thing, but he did take frequent pictures of them in 1963-1965, many of which are now collected in his coffee table book, The Beatles: A Private View. He also filmed the title sequences for A Hard Day's Night and Help!, and photographed and designed John Lennon's first two books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. For about a year, beginning around the end of 1963, Freeman lived in the flat below John Lennon and his family in London. Lennon would play rock and soul records for Freeman, who would in turn play jazz records for Lennon, although Lennon didn't appreciate jazz. In The Beatles: A Private View, Freeman writes that Lennon was "intrigued by a contemporary French album of experimental music. There was one track where a musical phrase repeated, as if the record was stuck. This effect was used in 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' -- at my suggestion -- 'That my love, I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide.'"
Freeman did propose making a photomontage using the Beatles' four faces for the Revolver sleeve, but the bandmembers decided to use a sleeve by their friend Klaus Voormann instead, and Freeman and the group amiably ended their association. Freeman continued to work as a photographer for publications and books, and also worked as a film cameraman. Many of his mid-'60s Beatles photos, described by Paul McCartney as "amongst the best ever taken" of the group, were assembled for high-quality browsing in the oversize coffee table and art book The Beatles: A Private View. For this he wrote some accompanying text with his memories of the photo sessions and impressions of the Beatles' personalities, although there was little in the way of revelations. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi