Backwards Abbey Road Image sells for $25,000

A rare version of the famous album cover showing the Beatles walking in the opposite direction almost doubled estimates when it came up for auction.

By Colin Bertram
|  Tuesday, May 22, 2012  |  Updated 1:48 PM CDT
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Rock Stars: Then and Now

This reverse image of the Beatles' iconic Abbey Road album cover featuring (l.-r.) John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, is up for grabs at auction.

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It’s an image that became part of Beatles’ lore – Paul, John, Ringo and George traversing the crosswalk outside of EMI studios on Abbey Road.

Now a rare photograph showing the super group walking the wrong way across the road has been sold for £16,000 (approximately U.S. $25,200) at auction. That's almost double the estimate which was listed at £9,000.

The version that graces the cover of 1969’s “Abbey Road” – the Beatles’ 11th studio album – has the Fab Four making their way from the photographer’s left to right in the London suburb of St. John’s Wood where the EMI recording studio still exists. The image up for grabs features John Lennon leading his band-mates from right to left.

That’s only one of the differences fans will find on closer inspection of the image. Paul McCartney famously went shoe-less in the album image; in the reverse picture he is seen wearing sandals. The cigarette he carries on the album is also missing.

In 1966 photographer Iain MacMillan was given only ten minutes to capture the moment and managed six takes of the iconic shot, with the photograph available being the second version captured. In order to record the image, MacMillan climbed a ladder situated in the middle of the road. Paul McCartney conceived the idea behind the cover, going so far as to draw a sketch of exactly what he wanted.

“That photo’s been called an icon of the 1960s, I suppose it is,” said Iain MacMillan in 1989. “I think the reason it became so popular is its simplicity. It’s a very simple, stylized shot. Also it’s a shot people can relate to. It’s a place where people can still walk.”

So popular has the location become to Beatles' and pop culture fans, a live webcam feed runs 24 hours a day showing the crossing and surrounding roads.

MacMillan, who passed away in 2006, went on to photograph many other celebrities during his life, but it is the image of Abbey Road that gained the most notoriety from his body of work. The photographer revisited the location in 1993 when McCartney invited him take another picture on the now-famous crosswalk – this time featuring the singer and his Old English sheepdog. That image became the cover of “Paul is Live,” the solo album McCartney released that same year.

According to MacMillan's obituary in The Guardian, the photographer was modest about his acheivements and retained a lasting affection for Paul and Linda McCartney, whom he described as "the most solidly down to earth and unaffected couple imaginable."

Owned by a private collector, the reverse Abbey Road photo is number 3 of only 25 created and was auctioned in a lot of 279 other photographs at Bloomsbury Auctions in London that took place on May 22.

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