Review of 'Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm' at London's National Portrait Gallery • Art de Vivre

Review of 'Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm' at London's National Portrait Gallery

6 minutes to read
Oct 05, 2023

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I always knew I had taken some pictures in the 1960s

reads an excerpt from musician Paul McCartney. This excerpt, along with many others, is written throughout the walls inside the ‘Eyes of the Storm’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The exhibition captures the essence of ‘Beatlemania,’ a phenomenon fueled by chart-topping singles like 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and 'She Loves You.'

To provide a glimpse into this elusive period of pop culture, the legendary musician generously donated his extensive collection of over 1,000 photographs, all taken during a pivotal era of The Beatles' evolution.

An intimate look at The Beatles

The exhibition explores the formative years of the band 1963 and 1964 at the height of Beatlemania. Iconic cities in The Beatles’ history make up the 250 photographs displayed. Also included are handwritten notes from McCartney’s personal diary and news clips. It is a look through the eyes of McCartney and the group's entourage who used the camera to capture intimate moments. They’re equally a trip down memory lane for the singer who says:

The photographs remind me of an England that is more my parent’s generation than my own.

Exhibition Paul McCartney © Paul McCartney

From Liverpool to Paris

Many of the shots include performances throughout London and Liverpool but also the group having fun with family. It still hasn’t hit them that they’re this massive group despite the phenomenon of ‘Beatlemania’ being rampant in London. In McCartney’s own words, it was invented in the city. They had many shows and were followed by the press.

Where fame began to catch up 

The initial section of the gallery delves into a pivotal phase in The Beatles' journey: their three-week stay in the French capital. They would be surrounded by French singers and celebrities all while adhering to a meticulously planned itinerary. The section also demonstrates the mounting intensity of pressure they faced as they played multiple shows per day throughout this stay. There were very few shots of the group in public as at this point fame caught up with the Fab Four.

Notably, the handwritten lyrics to their hit ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ are included in the section. The song hit Number 1. on the American charts during their stay, an event that propelled them to their first American trip.

Exhibition review Paul McCartney © Paul McCartney

Exhilarating moments in New York

The most notable era for the band is their first trip to the United States. The group refused to go to America until they had a Number 1 hit in the country, a statement reiterated throughout the exhibition. There is an aura of excitement attached as the shots include McCartney photographing photojournalists. However, it is a shot of Lennon rehearsing with sunglasses that is the most attention-grabbing here.

The iconic ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ performance happens during this time. It is a performance where a record-breaking 73 million viewers tuned in. It is at this moment that the Gallery says they

redefined fame for the modern era.

Their time in New York would be constantly followed by large crowds of fans wherever they went. The phenomenon had travelled from London to America inspiring the opening shot of their film ‘A Hard’s Day Night’ in which the four lads are running from a crowd of girls.

Photographs Paul McCartney © Paul McCartney

Miami: The most dazzling, colourful part of the show

The most eye-catching part of the show explores the group's trip to Miami. The room fills up with colour compared to the others as McCartney elected to switch from black and white film to colour.

It’s like we were living in a black and white world on the rest of the tour and suddenly we’re in wonderland

stated McCartney regarding The Beatles’ time in the city. The shorts that make up the section are the most surprising and fun, showing the Fab Four relaxing for once. Highlights include candid photos of John Lennon with his wife Cynthia, the band meeting Cashius Clay (Mohhamad Ali) before he was the Boxing Heavyweight Champion, and a woman in a bikini handing George Harrison a drink poolside. The final of which is used as key marketing material for the exhibition.

McCartney demonstrates his knowledge of photography while equally showing respect to photographers of the era.  He is by no means as virtuoso a photographer as he is a musician, yet, the images hold a real importance. They are a look at the world's most famous band and hold cultural relevance when looking at the popular culture of the 1960s.


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Credits for the Main photo: © Paul McCartney 

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