Triptych To Ride
All Beatles fans know about the infamous "Butcher Cover". But nobody has really tried to "recreate" the original triptych that photographer Robert Whitaker described. So, using Whitaker's description, I made my own translation of the Beatles Triptych using photoshop. The best source of information on the "Butcher Cover" is the fantastic website - "All About the Beatles Butcher Cover" - and it is there that I found most of the quotes and descriptions for my "triptych recreation".
Definition of "triptych"...
A work of art (usually a panel painting) which is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which are hinged together and folded. The middle panel is the larger one, and flanked by two lesser, related works. The triptych form arises from early Christian art, and was the standard format for altar paintings from the Middle Ages onwards. Its geographical range was from the eastern Byzantine churches throughout to the English Celtic church in the west. Renaissance painters and sculptors such as Hans Memling and Hieronymus Bosch used the form.
First, a little background...
Here's what photographer Robert Whitaker said: "It was part of three pictures that should have gone into an icon. If the trilogy or triptych of the three photographs had ever come together, it would have made sense. I wanted to do a real experiment - people will jump to wrong conclusions about it being sick, but the whole thing is based on simplicity -- linking four very real people with something real. I was trying to show that the Beatles were flesh and blood. There is another photo which is the Beatles with a girl with her back toward you, hanging on to sausages. Those sausages were meant to be an umbilical cord. I got George to knock some nails into John's head, and took some sausages along to get some other pictures, dressed them up in white smocks as butchers, and this is the result -- the use of the camera as a means of creating situations."
More about the intended triptych...
The first photo represents the "birth" of the Beatles, with the sausages representing an umbilical cord. Whitaker explained: "My own thought was how the hell do you show that they've been born out of a woman the same as anybody else? An umbilical cord was one way of doing it."
The last photo represents the notion that the Beatles are "real", not an illusion. Hence, the driving of nails into John's head by George Harrison. Whitaker explained that this picture was intended to demonstrate that the Beatles were not an illusion, not something to be worshipped, but people as real and substantial as "a piece of wood. John would actually have had a transparent film of wood grain over his face so that he looked like a wood block, which gives some explanation for why George is banging nails into his head".
The centre panel of the triptych is the image nowadays referred to as the "butcher" photo. It shows the Beatles dressed in butcher's coats, draped with slabs of red meat, false teeth, glass eyes and dismembered doll parts. This picture was actually titled "A Somnambulant Adventure" and Bob's intention was to add other elements to it which would create a jarring juxtaposition between idolisation of The Beatles as gods of the pop world and their flesh and blood reality as ordinary human beings, but he was never able to realise this.
Here's more from Robert Whitaker: "If you could imagine, the background of that picture should have been all gold. Around the heads would have gone silver halos, jewelled. The [Butcher] cover was an unfinished concept. It was just one of a series of photographs that would have made up a gate-fold cover. Then the background would have contained more gold, so it was rather like a Russian icon. It was just after John Lennon had said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. In a material world that was an extremely true statement."
Whitaker also said: "Around their heads there would've been silver halos with precious stones and then the whole of the rest of it would've been like a Russian icon - silver and gold, so that I've sort of canonised them and put them into the church. The meat is meant to represent the fans, and the false teeth and the false eyes is the falseness of representing a god-like image as a golden calf."
I found some other Robert Whitaker quotes about the other two pictures - so here are my photoshop interpretations of those, using his words as a guide...
Robert Whitaker said about the first image: "The front cover was to be a picture of them holding two strings of sausages coving out of the nether regions of a lady. The sausages are meant to be an umbilical cord. And then that image was going to be inset inside a pregnant woman's womb, and there was going to be an illustration of a breast with a nipple and a big womb, and the four Beatles laying inside her tummy all connected to an umbilical cord."
On the last image, Whitaker said: "John would actually have had a transparent film of wood grain over his face so that he looked like a wood block, which gives some explanation for why George is banging nails into his head. There would also have been a horizon with the sky where the water should be and the water where the sky was."
So there you have it - one fan's interpretation of the "Beatles Triptych". I have obviously taken the meaning of a Beatles triptych too literally in the first "recreation". I mean, how would this triptych work as an album cover? As for the other two interpretations - it was fun trying to translate Whitaker's words into an actual image.
Past EAR CANDY "Butcher Cover" stories: