Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Retouching the Abbey Road cover

Front cover after retouching. Traffic and people removed?
Our obsession with the Abbey Road album cover continues. Recently, we found a blog post from 2010 where Mike Cockcroft talks about his dad. John Cockcroft (1934-2008) was an expert on retouching photos, and he was the man responsible for the job that was done on the Abbey Road photos - front and back - for use on the album cover.
Mike explains what was done for this album:

"I found out much later in life, when I started working with my Dad in his studio that he had retouched the Beatles Abbey Road album cover, Rolling Stones magazine's 14th greatest album of all time.
Abbey Road was shot by Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan (1938 - 2006), Macmillan was given only ten minutes to take the shot and its ironical that it has become one of the most famous and imitated album covers in recording history."
"Iain used Colorcel, a London dye transfer and Print Processing Service with a strong retouching department of which dad was the head. The lab trained many of the rising retouching stars of the time including Richard Manning who worked on Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy album cover for the legendary Hipgnosis."
...

"So what did John do on this cover? He took out some of the onlookers and traffic and on the back cover the signage "Beatles" and "Abbey Road" were created from shots of street lettering from in and around London, cracks drawn in to make it real and finally the girl in the blue dress was added with dark room trickery."

Source: Bitdepth


Back cover retouched, but before the titles and the Apple logo was superimposed. Courtesy of Recordmecca.com

So now we know: the girl in the blue dress was no mistake and no passer-by, she was added to the photo during retouching!  The actual back cover photo was taken on the corner of Abbey Road and Alexandra Road, a road which is no more. Cockcroft  talks about cracks being drawn in to make it look real, but the main crack is certainly real, as seen in this photo:

Autumn 1969 album cover tourists
Still, the crack was drawn into the "S" in the "BEATLES" sign and may be what Cockcroft is referring to. Cockcroft also talks about the letters from "BEATLES" and "ABBEY ROAD" being pieced together from photos of other street signs, but we think that only applies to "BEATLES". The scene in the photo did have an original Abbey Road street sign, but replacing letters may have been applied to the damaged "O" and part of the "A" in ROAD on the original sign. These original letters seem to have fallen victims to that major crack in the wall. Four of the other original letters were salvaged during the demolition of Alexandra Road, and later glued together again and sold for £7000 in 2012.
As far as the removal of traffic and onlookers are concerned, we can't know for sure, as the unretouched front and back covers of Abbey Road have never been displayed in public, as far as we know, just the outtake photos of the front cover.

This onlooker is not from the photo used on the cover, but from an outtake.
This blog post has been edited to include the photo above.

UPDATE: The girl in the blue dress still an enigma

7 comments:

georgefromhenley said...

no idea where i read it - but i think Ian claimed that the girl was in the original shot. i also read the heaven was made more blue afterwards...
thorsten
www.bravo-beatles-bitztournee.de

Roger Stormo said...

I don't know, she may have been added for effect or to mask something, don't you think? As for the sky, well it is certainly more blue on the album cover than on the outtakes. And the colours are also a lot warmer, at least on the original UK release.

arrownet said...

I seem to recall Iain Macmillan saying that the girl walked passed as they were taking the shot - she was totally oblivious to what was going on.
Which is why she's somewhat blurred.
Naturally, that would be the photo to use!

georgefromhenley said...

Here is a quote from WIKIPEDIA:

After the shoot Iain went to find a road sign for use on the back cover. It was taken on the corner with Alexandra Road. During photographing the sign a girl in a blue dress walked through the shot. Iain was angry but later it was chosen as the back cover. The wall with the sign was demolished several years later.

Personally I dont believe the retouching story.

thorsten

TheresaZ said...

Terrific, thank you for sharing. Abbey Road was my very first Beatles album, I got it in the early 70's

Michael Hockinson said...

Roger, you are planning to compile all your Abbey Road articles into a book someday. Right? Wonderful stuff.

Roger Stormo said...

No book is in the works, I'm afraid. It would be pointless without the photos to illustrate it and they would be too expensive to acquire for print publication.