50th anniversary of the Beatles in D.C.: Mike Mitchell’s photos of the Fab Four go on display this weekend

As part of the re-creation of the Beatles' first U.S. concert at the Uline Arena on Tuesday, organizers will exhibit 19 images taken by D.C.-based photographer Mike Mitchell in 1964.

The budding photojournalist was 18 when he traveled from Oxon Hill armed with a Nikon camera and a press pass that would allow him to shoot for a local magazine called Washington. He perched as close as he could to John, Paul, George and Ringo and snapped 450 moody, occasionally blurry, black-and-white images of the shaggy-haired rockers as they played. To steady himself, he rested a single elbow on the stage.

Re-read: Long-unseen Beatles photos bring Mike Mitchell back into the light

"It was incredibly dark in the coliseum," Mitchell, 68, says now. "I was scared. I didn't have enough money for a flash gun. I was thinking, 'Oh, my God. What am I going to do?' "

The teenager -- barely older than the screaming high-schoolers in the crowd -- looked around, taking note of how other photographers prepared. "I also looked at what they weren't doing," he says, "and nobody was up on the stage. So I got up on stage. When I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, lights came on."

They illuminated the Washington Coliseum's stage with such intensity, Mitchell says, that he began to work, catching one iconic image of the Fab Four from behind, their silhouettes etched in bright, white light. The image is one of several on display beginning Saturday at the one-time sports arena, used these days as a parking garage.

"I didn't really know it at the time," he says, "but it was a really privileged place to be. I could hear the music."

Because of the screaming, hardly anyone else could.

Mitchell estimates that he's spent as many as a thousand hours restoring his photographs, using Photoshop to remove the dust and grunge that had compromised the 50-year-old negatives; a few on display at the now-defunct venue this weekend are composites, which he created by pasting multiple images together (including several photos of John Lennon and Paul McCartney performing) to evoke the feeling, he says, "of actually playing."

Mitchell shot the Beatles only once more, months later, when an official tour brought the Fab Four to the Civic Center in Baltimore. But he recognizes that the night in 1964, in retrospect, was one of the defining moments of his life.

"Where my pictures are going to be hanging is the ticket lobby through which I made an exit from that concert 50 years ago," he says. "That's just a really amazing feeling."

Mike Mitchell's photos of the Beatles are on view Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  at the Uline Arena, 1146 Third St. NE. Admission those days is $5. The photos will also be on display Tuesday during the "Yesterday & Today" concert. The exhibit is included with admission that night. For details, visit www.beatlesyesterdayandtoday.com

Lavanya Ramanathan is a professional eater/drinker/thinker for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. University of Texas. Northwestern University. Rap fan.
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