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At 'Om' with the Beatles

(March 2008) posted on Mon Mar 03, 2008

Circa 1968 photographs adorn Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

click an image below to view slideshow

By Angela Prues

In the spring of 1968 the Beatles took a hiatus, leaving for a spiritual respite at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s meditation retreat in Rishikesh, India. No one, not even the Fab Four, would have predicted that during this time they would produce some of their best work-epic songs such as "Revolution," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da," to name just a few.

Nor would anyone have foreseen that, 40 years later, photographs taken by another visitor whose path just happened to cross that of the Beatles during the India retreat would end up surviving. And that later these images, having endured time and abandonment, would end up on the business side of a wide-format printer, and be installed in an airport bearing Lennon’s name with 5.5 million travelers passing through it each year.

Life goes on

Aimless upon receiving a "dear john" letter from his girlfriend in 1968, documentary filmmaker Paul Saltzman left his sound-recording job and sought refuge at the India ashram. He was 25 and looking to "find himself," but at first couldn’t gain access to the meditation center because of some other well-known visitors, including Mia Farrow, Donovan, and a particularly acclaimed foursome. So Saltzman slept in his tent at Maharishi’s gates for eight days before he, along with his cheap Pentax 35mm camera ("I couldn’t afford anything better"), finally gained admittance.

"I wasn’t looking for the Beatles," Saltzman says, but once admitted, he didn’t hesitate to approach the group and ask if he could join them. To which Lennon replied, "Sure, mate. Grab a seat."

Saltzman certainly didn’t intend to capitalize on his newfound friends’ fame. In fact, he says, "Within five minutes of meeting them, I forgot they were the Beatles. I could have taken hundreds of pictures but I never thought of it." During his time at the retreat, however, he managed to snap a little over 50 photographs of the band, photos which Sotheby’s auction house would later call "some of the most intimate pictures of them."