The Long (and Winding) Road to Brooklyn: Inside the Making of Paul McCartney’s ‘1963–64: Eyes of the Storm’

Observer's Rob LeDonne spoke with the Beatle's personal archivist Sarah Brown about how the traveling exhibition, currently at the Brooklyn Museum, came to be.

Sir Paul McCartney Visits Brooklyn Museum Exhibit, Paul McCartney Photographs 1963–64: Eyes of the Storm
Sir Paul McCartney visits Paul “McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm” in April. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for MPL

Cue the screaming girls! But keep your voice down, please. Not long ago, a Beatle invaded New York City yet again. This time, however, a member of the Fab Four went to the Brooklyn Museum. “Paul was actually just here visiting,” Sarah Brown, the rock legend’s personal photo archivist, told me as she took me through the institution’s fifth floor last month.

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The reason for McCartney’s visit was a walkthrough of the music legend’s roving photography and relic exhibition “Paul McCartney Photographs 1963–64: Eyes of the Storm.” Comprising a collection of snapshots taken by the famed singer-songwriter of himself and his Beatles cohorts John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, it’s a tantalizing look from a personal perspective at one of music culture’s most formidable periods.

“He wanted to go through it to make sure everything looked amazing,” Brown told Observer of the hands-on approach McCartney took to the exhibition, which previously showed at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Virginia following its debut at London’s National Portrait Gallery.

“Aside from the curation process, he’s been involved with everything from choosing the and even things like all of the frames.” He has worked on the exhibition at every step on its journey.

John and George. Paris, 1964. © 1964 Paul McCartney


Ever the prescient artist, McCartney’s knack for foresight stretches back to a fortuitous decision to become an amateur photographer right around the time the Beatles began their journey of global domination in the early 60s. As a result, “Eyes of the Storm” offers a rare glimpse at a brief period spanning 1963 to 1964—a behind-the-scenes look at a litany of consequential cultural moments that took place during that truncated timeline: breakout performances in Europe, Paul’s very first transatlantic flight and his first time in America, plus that historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in February that turned the States upside down, triggered Beatlemania and changed music forever. The artist sometimes known as Macca documented the action every step of the way. But ironically, despite his photos’ status as a treasure trove, his documentation was subsequently forgotten in the madness of the decades that followed.

“He actually wasn’t even sure if they still existed,” said Brown, who’s been collaborating with McCartney for the past eight years. After a stint working in Vogue’s photo archive, she found herself joining forces with the Beatle after answering an anonymous job posting for a photo archivist. “I applied through a normal advert,” she recalls with a sense of wonder, only discovering later exactly who she’d be working for. But after an extended interview process, she was hired. First, she worked with Linda McCartney’s vast archive (Paul’s late wife was a professional photographer in her own right), but eventually, the focus shifted to Paul’s pictures.

“We were in a meeting about an exhibition we were planning for Linda, and he mentioned that he had taken his own pictures in the ‘60s and asked if I could locate them,” recalled Brown. Thanks to previous archival work, it didn’t take much effort. “He had two people dedicated to his archive who did an amazing job of scanning and digitizing all of the negatives and contact sheets,” Brown said. “ I just had to search on the digital archive and find where they were stored.” However, there were those occasions when she found herself pleasantly surprised by unexpected treasures. “Sometimes a box from an attic does appear and it’s exciting when you get to look at that.”

​“There’s stuff [in the archive] that I literally thought I’d never see again and then suddenly, all of that’s there,” McCartney told the British style magazine The Face in a 2023 interview. ​“It’s like magic. It’s like some old scrapbook that you discover of your family or something: ​‘Wow, I never knew that…’ ​‘Oh yeah, Auntie Mary took this.’ It’s like a gift seeing all this stuff come back. And then, the thing is that it’s not like a family snapshot album, because they’re kind of nice pictures.”

In all, the pair went through around 1,000 shots to find the 250 that became the exhibition—also now a book of the same name—some scanned from prints and all completely unedited, with scratches and tape apparent on several shots. Each chapter of their journey is organized by location; early on we see the pandemonium at the Olympia Theatre in Paris in January ‘64, a hint of what was to come. (The eager crowd reportedly became chaotic with Paul pleading for order.)

Paul McCartney: “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.” © 1964 Paul McCartney

“You have to remember,” Brown explained, “that the previous November, John F. Kennedy was assassinated.” The assassination and its fallout were so fresh that when The Beatles landed at JFK, the airport, formerly Idlewild, had only had the slain President’s name in tribute for three months. “The Beatles coming to America was a burst of hope and lightness in a grieving country.” When it came to the exhibit, the pair was playing off the political and social movements going on at the time and thinking about how the band fit into that landscape.

There’s a distinct narrative here, and the result is an intensely intimate view of an array of culture-shifting moments, including backstage moments at The Ed Sullivan Show. Seventy-three million people watched the broadcast, which broke viewership records at the time. “Paul told me that one of the reasons he took all of these pictures is because he didn’t know how long it was all going to last,” said Brown. No one has achieved the magnitude of success of The Beatles before or since—with the possible exception of Taylor Swift and only with many asterisks.

Following their escape to New York, the Fab Four headed to Washington D.C. (by train, to play their first American concert) and to Miami (by plane). It was their first time in cities they had heard so much about across the pond. Along the way, McCartney had a habit of focusing his lens on, for lack of a better phrase, normal people.

“What I love about his photographs is that he gives just as much attention and dignity to the non-celebrities he was surrounded by,” said Brown. “He’s just as interested in the ordinary working person as he is by all these musicians and people surrounding him.” That includes men outside shoveling snow he took from train window somewhere between New York and D.C. “He said, ‘Who is this man? What his story is, we may never know.’”

Another is of a young girl serenely looking into his car window. “I love it for its composition,” Brown said—it’s one of her favorites. “He took it while either getting into or out of the car. It’s crisp, in focus and beautifully composed. I love the light in it. It’s like a Caravaggio painting.”

While many of the fans remain nameless, relatives of those anonymous faces have been coming forward thanks to the exhibit. Most famously, the revelation of the identity of a young girl formerly only known as Adrienne from Brooklyn from a CBS News report on the Beatles’ arrival in New York. “I don’t care what anybody thinks,” she says in the 60-year-old clip. “I’ll love The Beatles forever, and I’ll always love them. Even when I’m 105 and an old grandmother, I’ll love them. And Paul McCartney, if you are listening, Adrienne from Brooklyn loves you with all her heart.” To promote the exhibit, McCartney posted a message to Adrienne (“I saw your video, and I’m in Brooklyn now!) on social media, which prompted her children to reach out. Sadly, the real Adrienne D’Onofrio passed away in 1992.

The exhibit wraps up when the Fab Four hit Miami to tape a follow-up appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and bask in the sun, with photos showing them smoking and drinking in their bathing suits and Lennon splashing in the ocean waves. The tale then goes from black and white to full color (Brown called it a Wizard of Oz moment) as McCartney had the foresight, yet again, to switch to color film to document their glistening visit to the Sunshine State. It’s still a point of pride for Miami, with many of the photos also currently on display at the Miami hotel The Betsy.

Self-portrait. London 1963. © 1963 - 1964 Paul McCartney

From there, the photos thin out. Brown told me McCartney’s subsequent hectic schedule forced him to put aside his hobby, with the foursome headed to set to film the movie A Hard Day’s Night. “He said he just got too busy,” she explained. “Life took over, and he was in the biggest band in the world.”

It’s a story of not only music culture and a changing society but also a young rocker whose dreams were coming vividly true. “At the time, we didn’t feel innocent at all,” McCartney told The Face. “We thought we were big men. You know, we’d got our ciggies, got the suits, got the cool shirts. We knew we were becoming very successful. We were starting to earn money. We felt like kings of the universe.”

“When he was looking through all these photos, he was talking about how they brought back happy, fun memories for him,” Brown concluded. The memories came flooding back for McCartney. “He had completely forgotten he had taken shots like George with sunglasses in a bikini with a drink, looking so relaxed and happy. Looking through the viewfinder, he had no idea who these pictures would come out. Today, he finds it all really joyous.”

Paul McCartney Photographs 1963–64: Eyes of the Storm” is on at the Brooklyn Museum through August 18. 

The Long (and Winding) Road to Brooklyn: Inside the Making of Paul McCartney’s ‘1963–64: Eyes of the Storm’