From The Telegraph
Linda McCartney: a life through the lens
As a collection of Linda Eastman's best photographs - as chosen by her family - goes on display in a London gallery, her daughter Mary McCartney tells Roya Nikkhah that her mother's motto was always "Keep it simple"
by Roya Nikkhah
9:00PM BST 04 Jun 2011
In May 1968, Linda Eastman became the first female photographer to feature on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with a portrait of Eric Clapton. Less than a year later, she married one of the most famous men in the world to become Linda McCartney, and was thereafter known primarily as a Beatle’s wife.
“No one knew I was a photographer,” Linda once said. “When I married Paul, to [the fans] I was an American divorcee.”
McCartney died of breast cancer in 1998 aged 56, but her family are determined to ensure that her accomplishments as a photographer live on. For the last year, McCartney and his daughters Mary, a photographer, and Stella, a fashion designer, have sifted through Linda’s archive of more than 200,000 images, to collate Linda McCartney: A Life In Photographs, a book of some of her best work, accompanied by limited-edition prints.
The retrospective encapsulates her work as a leading music photographer, with iconic images of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, the Rolling Stones and, of course, The Beatles. But while it covers studio sessions with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, it is also an intimate family album, with touching and many previously unseen pictures of the McCartneys raising their young children – Heather, Mary, Stella and James – at their farm in Scotland, on holiday in the Caribbean and at home in London.
Mary, who talks openly of her mother’s huge influence on her own career, is wandering around the cavernous white space of the Phillips de Pury gallery in London, where a selection of the prints are being hung, among them Linda’s famous photograph of a baby Mary peeking out from inside her father’s sheepskin jacket, which later illustrated the cover of his first solo album, McCartney, in 1970. “It looks so cosy, doesn’t it?” says Mary. “That’s how they’d go riding together – zip me in there and go for a little horse ride.”
Mary speaks movingly of her regret that her mother’s work wasn’t more widely recognised, so often overshadowed by the McCartney name. “She didn’t self-promote or do lots of interviews, she never blew her own trumpet, and so she was often pigeonholed as a celebrity who dabbled in photography, which isn’t how it was at all.
“People didn’t realise that it was through her photography career that Mum and Dad met and that she was a photographer way before she had a family with Dad. But she wasn’t that bothered about what other people thought about her, it’s more probably us, her kids, who got irritated.”
Linda’s break came in 1967, when she was the only photographer allowed on to a boat on the Hudson River in New York where the Rolling Stones were performing. The candid photographs of the band at work and at play paved the way for commissions from Rolling Stone and other leading glossy magazines.
“People know quite a lot of her Sixties work, but Stella, Dad and I were interested in showing a broader spectrum, as well as those iconic images,” says Mary. “When she got married, she stopped being a jobbing photographer doing all the bands in New York. When she moved to London, she carried on with a very similar style and eye, but her subject changed. She was still photographing the people around her, which were her family and friends.”
A previously unseen photograph of Twiggy shows the young model relaxing off-duty during a visit to Linda in London shortly after Mary was born in 1969. Another shows her young brother, larking around with McCartney in a bubble bath in 1983. “This one really shows her style,” says Mary. “Mum’s motto was always 'keep it simple’ which I stick to. She would never pose us all.
“With Dad and James in the bubble bath, she would just walk by and have thought visually that was quite strong and have taken the picture. She’d always have the camera on her so these are all like pictures she’d take as she was wandering through life.”
Mary moves towards a black-and-white picture taken at their farm in Scotland in 1982, showing Paul standing on a fence in his dressing gown, while Stella crouches on the ground and a young James, in his pyjamas, leaps off the family Land Rover. “This one is genius, but she won’t have set it up – it will have just been everybody there. That fence was really wobbly and we used to have a competition to see who could walk the longest along it before you fell off. It wasn’t very stable. I never, ever got all the way along.”
Mary remembers watching her mother at work; her subjects would barely register they were being captured on film. “She would have the camera with her but wouldn’t hold it up in your face for a long time, so she wouldn’t be clicking all around you – she’d chat with you, take a snap, put the camera down, so you didn’t have time to start posing and feeling self-conscious. She never intimidated people.”
Linda herself spoke of always trying to penetrate beneath the “veneer” of celebrity subjects like Jim Morrison, lead singer with The Doors, and her friend Jimi Hendrix. “People could confide in her, because she wasn’t a gossip,” says Mary. “Hendrix in particular became a bit disenchanted [with photographers] because they always wanted him to 'perform’ – be all rock and roll – but she was friends with him because she loved his playing, so he didn’t need to be like that with her.”
I wonder if Linda ever regretted relinquishing her successful career in New York after marrying Paul? “Talking to Mum, she had become a bit disenchanted with the music industry by that time,” says Mary. “She found that as the years went on, there were more lawyers and PRs around the record companies, who were more and obstructive.
“She was also being asked to get much more sensationalist pictures, which she wasn’t interested in doing. She told me people would try and get her to go to Andy Warhol’s Factory and take pictures of people shooting up, which wasn’t her style. It was enough to make her feel uncomfortable. She needed to be enjoying it to stay stimulated, so I think she’d got to a point where she’d done her bit.”
One of Mary’s favourite works in the gallery is Whisky and Milk, Scotland 1978, a black-and-white shot of an empty whisky bottle and a milk bottle side by side on the kitchen table. “I love that and it’s one of Stella’s favourites, too. It shows her quirky side and her sense of humour. She always thought that was quite entertaining, you know, the contrast of both bottles equally enjoyed by different age groups.
“This is one of my favourites too,” she says, moving over to Paul’s Feet, where McCartney grips a glass with his feet, toe-nails varnished in rainbow colours. “It kind of says a lot about Mum and Dad.”
Mary published From Where I Stand last year, a retrospective book accompanying an exhibition of her own work. While editing the book and show, she noted the similarity between some of her pictures and her mother’s. “I looked at some shots and thought, 'that was a picture Mum could have taken,’ but the difference between us is that she wouldn’t care about missing a shot, whereas if I see something and I haven’t got a camera, I can get quite stressed.
“She was very chilled, she’d say: 'It’s a soul camera moment’. Now, if I get annoyed that I’ve missed a shot, I try and think, 'Don’t worry, it’s on the soul camera’. I say it and don’t really mean it, whereas Mum could really let it go. She had everything captured in her soul camera.”
Linda McCartney: Life in Photographs is at Phillips de Pury (Howick Place, London SW1, www.phillipsdepury.com) from June 7 to June 16. The book is published by TASCHEN and available for £44.99 at www.taschen.com