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The photography book showing life through Paul McCartney's eyes

Jeremy Blackmore

BY Jeremy Blackmore

18th Sep 2023 Culture

6 min read

The photography book showing life through Paul McCartney's eyes
A new photography book from the legendary Paul McCartney captures life behind Beatlemania through the Beatles' own eyes
Beatlemania conjures up images which define the Sixties—four mop topped musicians from Liverpool reshaping the musical and cultural landscape, surrounded by adoring, screaming fans and press photographers while police officers tried to maintain order.
But now thanks to an extraordinary treasure trove of nearly a thousand photographs, newly re-discovered in Paul McCartney’s archive during lockdown, we have the opportunity to experience life for the four pairs of eyes that lived and witnessed that intense, legendary time first-hand.
In a new book 1964: Eyes of the Storm, McCartney presents 275 of his photographs from six cities, Liverpool, London, Paris, New York, Washington DC and Miami taken during a momentous three months in the Beatles’ journey, including many never-before-seen portraits of John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

Seeing through Paul McCartney's lens

Across these images captured on his 35mm camera, McCartney charts the band’s journey from provincial and national stardom in Britain to global domination, culminating in an historic first appearance on US television watched by a staggering 73 million people. His photographs reveal a hugely talented amateur photographer and offer a Beatle's eye view of the mayhem around them: a gallery of Beatleland from the inside, looking out at the cultural maelstrom caused they caused. Many are currently on display in a special exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
For McCartney, the cover image, taken through a car’s rear window en-route to their New York hotel, communicates both the frenzy of their first American visit and the power of the iconic American city with skyscrapers soaring above the buildings on West Fifty-Eighth Street. Seen through McCartney’s lens, crowds chase the Beatles down the street to the Plaza Hotel where mounted police had to hold them back.
Crows chasing the Beatles in New York. © 1964 Paul McCartney.
Writes McCartney: “Nothing could have prepared me for the wild Friday afternoon that launched even higher levels of hysteria and madness. Landing at JFK Airport to this huge reception of fans and press was only the start, as it became even more chaotic during the rest of our first trip to the US.
“Now, no-one can doubt that these three months were something of a crucible, but at the time we didn’t know that a new sound, a new movement was happening. We were strangely at the centre of this global sensation, which had ignited in 1963 in the UK, with what the press dubbed ‘Beatlemania’. I felt like we were the stars at the centre of a very exciting film.”
"There is a real intimacy to these photographs taken in unguarded moments"
At its heart, as Director of the National Portrait Gallery Dr Nicholas Cullinan notes in his preface, the book is a family album, capturing the band members, their families, girlfriends, wives, managers and entourage.
There is a real intimacy to these photographs taken in unguarded moments, in places where fans and press did not have access, such as dressing rooms and hotel suites. The group are caught in moments of relaxation and reflection, laughing and chatting—and, when the book moves onto Miami, swimming in the sea and hanging out by the pool.
Ringo Starr in London, 1963–64.
At the same time, says Cullinan, the images reveal the intensity of touring, of long days spent in rehearsal, in hotels and traveling by planes, trains and automobiles.
He adds: “Capturing the Beatles at the beginning of a life-changing journey, these arresting and startlingly simple pictures could only have been taken by someone who was sharing these experiences and was innately curious about the rapidly changing world around them.”
Humour is evident throughout. “This is one of the things I love about the Beatles,” says McCartney. “We messed around. It kept us sane. And, looking back, I think it was a great unintended plan—we were using play as a tool.”

Charting the Beatles' meteoric rise

The book begins on home territory at the Liverpool Empire Theatre where the group are recording an episode of BBC’s Juke Box Jury before moving onto London for a lengthy run of Christmas shows at the Finsbury Park Astoria, mixing pantomime style skits with hit singles. It was a world of light entertainment, one which the Beatles would soon shatter. The book features images of fellow Mersey Beat stars Billy J Kramer, Cilla Black and The Fourmost snapped by McCartney from the wings of the stage. There are striking images too of McCartney’s girlfriend, the actress Jane Asher, taken in her family home in London.
As McCartney says, the Beatles’ meteoric rise did not come from nowhere—there was a trajectory, something we see as the story unfolds through his photographs. From London, they began an 18-date residency in Paris, soaking up the culture, the architecture and the fashions, celebrating the news that they had just scored their first American number one.
John Lennon in Paris, 1964.
America was without question the big prize, where most, if not all, of the music the band loved came from and McCartney revels in the noise, the scale and the excitement His images are a mixture of reportage and cityscapes, often taken at speed, but containing a sense of realism and innocence.
Writing in a special essay, Rosie Broadley, Senior Curator at the National Portrait Gallery, who has overseen McCartney’s exhibition, sets the photographs in context. For her, the images speak to McCartney’s engagement with a variety of cultural influences which in turn informed the band’s music. They evoke post-war Britain and kitchen sink dramas, French New Wave cinema and the Technicolour American dream.
Broadley says the photographs benefited from a new generation of point-and-shoot cameras which allowed for the development of a "snapshot" aesthetic that embraced imperfections, one where photographs had to be taken fast and, as such, captured real life.
" The images speak to McCartney’s engagement with a variety of cultural influences"
“The playfulness and spontaneity of McCartney’s pictures are characteristic of an emerging spirit in photography, made possible by new technologies and driven by youthful practitioners,” she writes.
As the group made its way to DC and then to Miami, McCartney’s camera was attracted to a new American universe of common people, capturing railway workers and others clearing snow. “These are my people,” he writes. “This is where I’m from. I grew up in a working-class family in Liverpool, so I could never detach myself from people like these. I wanted to be right in the middle of them.”
After New York and Washington, the book explodes into colour in Miami. 
George Harrison in Miami Beach in 1964.
One of the most striking images for McCartney was one he took during the journey from Miami airport to the group’s hotel. Through the car window he spied an armed policeman on a motorcycle.
“His gun was framed perfectly through the window, and I managed to focus on his gun and ammunition. It was still slightly shocking for us to see a gun in real life, as we didn’t have armed police officers back home. I don’t like guns. The violence they’re responsible for is the antithesis of everything the Beatles stood for.”
"The photos sat patiently waiting, nearly forgotten"
Returning home, McCartney was excited to get the photographs developed. But the rest of 1964 was a whirlwind of activity. The Beatles shot their first film A Hard Day’s Night, with scenes inspired by many of those captured in these photographs, recorded two new albums and returned to the United States for a full tour, where McCartney captured a handful of other photographs which feature towards the end of the book.
“The photos sat patiently waiting, nearly forgotten,” he writes. “It’s taken a while to finally get around to showing them. I think it’s been worth the wait.”
John Lennon and George Harrison. Paris, 1964. © 1964 Paul McCartney
Like many family albums, the photographs capture friends and family who are no longer alive. Reflecting on portraits of Lennon and Harrison, McCartney captions the images simply: “I love and miss them both dearly.”
But the images evoke happier memories too: “It’s not so much a feeling of loss but a joy in the past. When I look back and think, I have to say ‘Wow’—we did all that, and we were just kids from Liverpool. And here it is in the photographs. Boy, how great does John look? How handsome is George and how cool is Ringo, wearing that funny French hat? In fact, every picture brings back memories for me and I can try to place where they were and what we were doing on either side of the picture.”
Eyes of the storm jacket
Paul McCartney’s 1964: Eyes of the Storm is available from Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books. His photographs are on display at a special exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery until 1 October.
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