'Eyes of the Storm' – A Visual Journey Across Six Cities

Black and white photograph taken by Paul McCartney showing a large crowd of people awaiting the arrival of The Beatles at Miami in 1964

Did you know that 19th August is also known as World Photography Day? This year, it fortuitously falls right in the middle of Paul’s photography exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, which runs until 1st October! Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm features almost 200 of Paul’s own photographs taken at the height of ‘Beatlemania’, when he and his bandmates became a global phenomenon.

While the exhibition (and accompanying book 1964: Eyes of the Storm) provides a unique perspective on The Beatles’ rise to super-stardom, viewed from the inside looking out, Paul’s photographs also unveil the profound influence of the places they travelled to in this period. These six extraordinary cities – Liverpool, London, Paris, New York, Washington DC and Miami – have their own place in The Beatles’ story, as they inspired and helped shape the artistic vision of the band.

Through the lens of Paul's Pentax camera, the timeless grandeur of Paris and the electric buzz of New York are immortalised, the intimate feel of London’s theatre scene is revealed, and the glamour of Miami Beach is represented in glorious technicolour. Here’s a rundown of those six key cities, and why they were so important...

7th – 22nd December 1963

Black and white photo of Cilla Black in 1964
Cilla Black, London 1964

It all began in Liverpool, the epicentre of The Beatles' origin story, where four young friends helped to change popular culture. Paul’s photographs paint a vivid montage of the era, showcasing familiar faces such as Cilla Black and Brian Epstein who all play up to the camera and display a touch of ‘Scouse humour’.

As Beatlemania was in its infancy, Paul's photographic style was also being moulded, influenced by the photography of The Observer newspaper and the photographers around them such as Dezo Hoffman and Robert Freeman. These seasoned professionals left a mark on him, fostering his ability to capture key moments, like The Beatles' performance on the Juke Box Jury at the Empire Theatre.

24th December - 12th January 1964

Black and white self-portrait photograph of Paul McCartney in London, 1963
Self-portrait. London, 1963

London beckoned The Beatles at the end of 1963, as they were booked to play a special Christmas show at the Astoria Theatre in Finsbury Park. Armed with paper maps and the iconic London A-Z atlas, Paul immersed himself in the city's vibrant streets, capturing its essence through his lens and finding inspiration for art and music. 

Paul was welcomed into Jane Asher's family home on Wimpole Street, and it was here that he felt able to further experiment with photography. Paul captured intimate self-portraits at the Asher’s family home that echoes a sense of introspective moodiness; reflecting the city's diverse character and the band's rising stardom.

⁠14th January - 5th February 1964

Black and white photograph of a sign outside l'Olympia theatre in Paris saying Les Beatles
"It was a thrill seeing our name up in lights at l'Olympia theatre" - Paul
“I hate to admit it, but it’s tourists. It’s what tourists do when you go to a place: you take pictures. With us, I think we had a bit more of an artistic eye, so instead of, ‘You stand in front of the Arc de Triomphe and I’ll take a picture of you,’ it was more the misty view of Arc de Triomphe.” - Paul

The Beatles' arrival in Paris in 1964. Through Paul’s lens, a vivid tapestry of the Parisian experience emerges; influenced by the cinematic aesthetic of French New Wave films, Paul brought a moody and sometimes avant-garde aspect to his captures. From viewing the misty Arc de Triomphe from a car window to preserving intimate memories of camaraderie in their hotel suite, Paul's photographic eye truly caught the essence of Paris.

New York 
⁠7– 11th, 12-13th February 1964

Black and white photograph taken by Paul McCartney taken in New York in 1964
"The crowds chasing us in 'A Hard Day's Night' were based on moments like this. Taken out of the back of our car on West Fifty-Eigth, crossing the Avenue of the Americas." - Paul

The journey across the Atlantic was fuelled by dreams of American icons and music that Paul and The Beatles had become fascinated with. As they touched down at JFK Airport, it was obvious the ‘Beatlemania’ that had begun in their hometown of Liverpool had grown stronger and travelled wider. Not just the city, but the entire country, was in a frenzy. Paul immortalised these moments with his Pentax, from the wave of fans chasing them down New York streets to the quieter, introspective times in their hotel suite. 

During all this pandemonium, the band's quintessentially British humour surfaced, turning press encounters into games of quips. The Beatles' historic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, despite their initial unease with the heavy orange makeup, was an exhilarating experience watched by a staggering 73 million viewers. Through Paul's eyes, these photographs become more than mere snapshots; they are visual narratives, painting a portrait of The Beatles' inaugural American trip.

Washington D.C.
⁠11th- 12th February 1964

“Seeing Washington was very impressive. The White House looked very white and clean and wonderful. None of us had ever been to Washington. The train ride down was particularly fun, because we travelled with our press corps, a bit like the President on Air Force One. It had been snowing, which was nice. It kind of lent a bit of character and excitement.” - Paul

The Beatles brief yet impactful stopover in Washington D.C. came at a time of political uncertainty in America, which had recently been shaken by the assassination of President Kennedy. The heavy snowfall added to the atmosphere at locations such as The White House, perhaps the most famous building in the USA, which Paul snapped a photo of from inside a car.

⁠13th- 21st February 1964

Colour photograph of George Harrison in Miami being handed a drink by a bikini clad women
"George looking young, handsome and relaxed. Living the life. Miami Beach, 1964" - Paul
“The colour pictures start happening really when we get to Miami, and I like that aspect of the selection of pictures because it’s like we were living in a black and white world on the rest of the tour and suddenly we're in Wonderland: Florida, the sun, the swimming pools...” - Paul

In Miami, the sunshine and sea views were a stark contrast to the cold cities The Beatles had just left. This shift in visual atmosphere inspired Paul to switch to colour Kodachrome film, a medium more suited to the sunshine-drenched and easy-going essence of the city. The images he captured during this time provide glimpses not just into the public moments of The
Beatles' whirlwind journey, but also the fun they had relaxing by the pool, venturing out on boats and looking out of their beachfront hotel windows.

Despite the frenetic energy surrounding The Beatles' rise to fame, these photographs offer a sense of ease, giving an insight into the moments of respite from the swirling storm of Beatlemania. Each city had a profound impact on the aesthetic and style of Paul’s photographs, shaping the narrative of the exhibition and book. 

Eyes of the Storm is not merely a collection of captivating photographs; it serves as a testament to the influence that each city's people and culture, architectural beauty, and vibrant atmosphere had on the band.

Step back in time and experience different 35mm film effects inspired by each city in the Eyes of the Storm Instagram Filter. Check it out here!

Don’t miss out on the chance to view these photographs at the Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London until 1 October 2023. Find out more and get your tickets here.

The exhibition’s accompanying book 1964: Eyes of the Storm is out now. Grab your copy here.