Sir Paul McCartney is little-known for his work in the photographic medium. His late wife Linda was already famous as an internationally celebrated photographer, when the couple met in the 1960s. Now Sir Paul’s private and personal photos will be displayed for the first time when the National Portrait Gallery reopens to visitors as part of the major exhibition, Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm (28 June – 1 October 2023). The exhibition will shine a light on the portraits captured by McCartney using his camera between November 1963 and February 1964, the period in which John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were propelled from being the most popular band in Britain to an global cultural phenomenon.
This unprecedented display will contain over 250 photographs taken by consider the frenzy of ‘Beatlemania’ from the inside out and for the first time through the lens of McCartney’s Pentax camera. Described by McCartney in his own words as the “eyes of the storm,” these photographs provide a uniquely personal and never-before-seen perspective, documenting McCartney’s time with The Beatles at a critical moment in the group’s evolution.
An accompanying book of photographs and reflections by Paul McCartney, 1964: Eyes of the Storm, was published on 13 June by Penguin Press in the UK and by W.W. Norton in the US. In his foreword to the book Paul McCartney writes: “Millions of eyes were suddenly upon us, creating a picture I will never forget for the rest of my life.”
While the exhibition’s narrative represents just four short months, McCartney’s photographs chronologically document the experiences of the band on their travels – from the grainy black and white portraits taken backstage in Liverpool, rehearsing musicians at a recording studio in Paris, wintry Manhattan skylines, to the gleaming colour shots of Miami Beach in the sunshine. The earliest images in the exhibition date from November 1963, just as Beatlemania was gripping the nation, culminating with photographs taken in February 1964, during the final days of the band’s first triumphant trip to ‘conquer’ America. Indeed, the group’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on 9 February 1964 was watched by an unequalled television audience of 73 million people, transforming The Beatles into global superstars and redefining fame in the modern era.
While the photographs selected for this exhibition had existed as negatives and contact sheets for 60 years, the majority had never before been made into prints. Rediscovered in the artist’s archive in 2020, the photographs provide an insight into the band, their fans and the early 1960s, all through the eyes of Paul McCartney. McCartney selected the pictures and shared personal reflections about the time and the images captured in the exhibition.
Paul McCartney is recognised as one of the great cultural figures of the 20th and 21st centuries. Born in Liverpool, he reached international fame as a member of The Beatles before becoming leader of the group Wings and later commencing a successful solo career. McCartney is one of the most distinctive songwriters in popular music, with Yesterday and Hey Jude among his most famous works.
The four months depicted in this exhibition were just the beginning of an era of British cultural dominance in music, fashion and film. However, McCartney’s extraordinary photographs invoke a time when the culture opened up to everyone – when four young men from a northern English seaport could influence the world with their music and creativity.
Paul McCartney’s interest in the visual arts is evident in his photographs, reflecting styles and aesthetics of the period, including New Wave, documentary film-making and photojournalism, which emerged in the 1960s. He absorbed cultural influences, adapting his style to achieve a particular atmosphere, and learned from the photographers he worked with, who embraced the imperfections of ‘snapshot’ photography.
McCartney’s down-to-earth approach resonated with related cultural movements in Britain, such as gritty realism in theatre and literature and the Free Cinema movement, all of which prioritised working-class perspectives. His acute observation, so celebrated in his song lyrics, characterised the intimate portraits of John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and manager Brian Epstein, depicting moments of concentration, relaxation and joy. While media nearly always surrounded McCartney, he also used his camera to draw out personal encounters with press photographers and individuals set against roaring crowds. The exhibition documents the different environments he found himself in, documenting fleeting moments on the move, driving through streets lined with screaming fans.
“The truth is that I have always been interested in photography, from when I was very young when our family owned a little box camera in the 1950s. I used to love loading a roll of Kodak film into our Brownie camera.” – Paul McCartney, 2023
“Looking at these photos now, decades after they were taken, I find a sort of innocence. Everything was new to us at this point. But I like to think I wouldn’t take them any differently today. They now bring back so many stories, a flood of special memories, which is one of the many reasons I love them all, and I know that they will always fire my imagination. The fact that the National Portrait Gallery has taken these photographs for their reopening after a lengthy renovation is humbling yet also astonishing – I’m looking forward to seeing them on the walls, 60 years on.”
“We all know what Beatlemania looked and sounded like from the outside, but what did it look and feel like for the four pairs of eyes that lived and witnessed it first-hand? Over half a century, we have become familiar with press photographs showing the smiling Beatles and their screaming fans. Still, Paul McCartney’s intimate photographs have more in common with a family album, capturing people caught in off-guard moments of relaxation and laughter. I will always be honoured that Paul approached the National Portrait Gallery to share his extraordinary archive – this exhibition begins an exciting new chapter for the Gallery as we prepare to open our new doors and welcome back our visitors.” Dr Nicholas Cullinan Director, National Portrait Gallery
“The photographs in this exhibition offer a uniquely personal perspective on a period that has become pop culture folklore – The Beatles’ first transatlantic visit. Paul’s work shows us what it was like to look through his eyes. At the same time, The Beatles conquered the world, but also speak to his understanding of photography, his interest in technology and his responsiveness to contemporary culture.” Rosie Broadley Photographs Curator, National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is pleased to offer a new £5 ticket for its Summer 2023 season of exhibitions, available to all visitors aged 30 and under. Supported by the Principal Partner of the new National Portrait Gallery – Bank of America – reduced £5 tickets for Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm will be available to all visitors aged 30 and under, seven days a week.
An accompanying book of photographs and reflections by Paul McCartney, 1964: Eyes of the Storm, was published on 13 June by Penguin Press in the UK and by W.W. Norton in the US.
Founded in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery tells the story of Britain through portraits, using art to bring history to life and explore living today. From global icons to unsung heroes, our Collection is filled with the stories that have shaped and continue to shape a nation. We celebrate the power of portraiture and offer encounters with some of the world’s greatest and most exciting new artists, promoting engagement with portraiture in all media to a wide-ranging public by conserving, growing and sharing the world’s most extensive Collection of portraits.
The Gallery in St Martin’s Place, London, is currently closed until 22 June 2023 while essential building works take place on the Inspiring People redevelopment project, which will transform the Gallery, including a complete refurbishment of the building and a new learning centre. During the closure period, we have continued to share our Collection digitally and through a series of nationwide partnerships and collaborations.
Paul McCartney, 1964: Eyes of the Storm is available to pre-order from the Gallery’s online shop: npgshop.org.uk/collections/paul-mccartney-beatles/products/paul-mccartney-1964-eyes-of-the-storm-hardcover-book
Paul McCartney Photographs 1963–64: Eyes of the Storm
28 June – 1 October 2023 Tickets £22 (Concessions from £11 / Under 30s £5)