Fifty years ago, on Sept. 13, 1964, when the Beatles played to a screaming crowd at the Baltimore Civic Center, photographer Morton Tadder found himself in the right place at the right time — but for Tadder, who is no stranger to serendipity, his accidental attendance at the event was business as usual.
This month, 50 of Tadder’s images from the concert are on exhibit and sale, some for the first time ever, at Patrick Hill’s Unicorn Studio Gallery & Frame Shop in Fells Point.
Tadder, 86, now a resident in Cross Keys, grew up in Pikesville and has captured famous faces and glitterati for most of his life. He was first exposed to photography at about 14 when he answered an ad to assist Leon Perskie “to develop film and wash [film] tanks for 50 cents an hour.” He continued practicing photography in the military, but only by chance. Tadder was at Fort Meade for classification when an old camp counselor recognized him and stamped his assignment papers “critically needed specialist.” Suddenly, Tadder was a military photographer.
After a short-lived military career, Tadder began studies at Johns Hopkins University, when, he recalled, “this hand grabs me. It was Mr. Perskie,” who begged Tadder to quit school and work with him.
“We’re going to photograph the inauguration for the president of the U.S.,” Perskie told Tadder.
Just before the scheduled shoot, Perskie, who was the official photographer for four Democratic presidents, hurt his back and sent Tadder by himself to photograph Harry S. Truman. Since then, Tadder has photographed several other presidents, including John F. Kennedy; Queen Elizabeth II; performers Red Skelton, Arthur Godfrey, Pat Boone and Cary Grant, and spent 44 years photographing the Orioles. He was also sent to Cuba at a moment’s notice to photograph Fidel Castro.
“I’m like a movie, I really, really am,” said Tadder, seemingly surprised himself by the parade of events that have filled his career.
Tadder also shot for the Baltimore Playboy Club for seven years. He explained that the space required for lights and camera gear prevented him from shooting on location at the club, so Playboy bunnies would arrive at his studio dressed in their work clothes with just an overcoat, then remove the coats for the photo shoot.
“I could tell they were flashing the men … when I’d hear the yelling from the lobby of the studio,” he said, laughing.
When Tadder wound up at the Beatles concert in 1964, he was a photographer with the Phil Burchman Agency, which Tadder described as a photography clearinghouse. He was sent to the downtown Holiday Inn across from the Civic Center to cover an assignment. But there was a bit of a ruckus because of a British rock and roll band that was in town.
“I called the [agency] and they said go ahead, but no one really wanted the [Beatles] photos for any reason,” Tadder recalled of the conversation, “but go ahead and take some. They told me to just shoot a single roll of film.”
So he grabbed a four-foot ladder he kept in his car and his cameras and went toward the Civic Center, now called the Baltimore Arena.
“There was all this screaming … I didn’t know what the hell was going on,” Tadder recalled. “So I went 25 feet up in the aisle, put up my ladder, there were four security people coming so I just took the picture of the girls screaming at me.”
Ultimately Tadder shot six rolls of film, covering one of two concerts and the band’s press conference in between performances. The Sun Newspapers hadn’t sent a photographer to the event, he said, and “[they] asked me to write 100 words about the experience.” Regarding his time spent photographing John, Paul, George and Ringo, Tadder remarked that “they were just a bunch of nice kids.”
The negatives might still be tucked away in a drawer somewhere if it weren’t for Tadder’s assistant from 1987 to 1996, Lillian Crowley, who was thorough on her follow-up of a request from an agency.
“When you’re searching for stock images, you look through everything. Even things that don’t make sense, just in case,” recalled Crowley who now owns Lombard Hardware with her husband, Ken. “The folder said Beatles, but [as late as 1987 or 1988] you’re not thinking [it’s] the band.”
She looked through the pile of negatives on the light table when her husband came in, who is about nine years older.
“So my husband is looking at them and said, ‘This is the real Beatles! These have never been seen?’” she recalled. “My husband was really going crazy, and asked ‘Can we make some prints?’”
A handful of images were printed and exhibited at the Prince Charming Gallery in Mount Vernon, part of Tadder’s studio at the time.
“Morton was so cool to work with we had a ball,” said Crowley. “He still has the energy of a 30-year-old.”
Images of the band wandering around the basement of the Holiday Inn are some of the more private moments and most collectible of the images, described Tadder. There is one shot featuring John Lennon standing indoors, wearing sunglasses and holding a drink while other band members mill around, and another image of someone leaning into the Beatle’s limo to shake a hand. The exhibit includes these images and more of the concert, the fans and the press conference.
One piece, however, offers a historical arc that connects the work of Tadder to that of his son. A successful Los Angeles-based commercial photographer, Tim Tadder has established his name with highly-stylized images featuring famous athletes from all disciplines in ad campaigns.
In 2005, the son “took a picture of [Paul] McCartney onstage at the Super Bowl in a pose that looks almost exactly like” a photo the father took of the singer in 1964, said Tadder. A composite of the two photos is included in the exhibit at the Unicorn Studio Gallery & Frame Shop.
Patrick Hill’s Unicorn Studio Gallery & Frame Shop
626 S. Broadway • Baltimore, MD 21231
Exhibit opens on Sunday September 14, 2014 • 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Regular gallery hours • 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. • Tues. through Sat.
Morton Tadder’s Beatles rare, limited-edition prints will be on view through December.
For info call 410-675-5412 • Orders for prints and framing are available through the gallery.