Mary McCartney keeps the family photography tradition alive in new exhibition
Photographer enjoys following in mum Linda and uncle Mike's footsteps
Life doesn’t get much better than this. I am sitting in a room surrounded by extraordinarily talented women. Madonna, Marianne Faithfull, Helen Mirren, Gwyneth Paltrow, Björk, Chrissie Hynde and many others are just yards away.
And it isn’t just talented and famous women – just around the corner, for example, the marvellous Morrissey is grabbing people’s attention.
It’s a feast for the eyes and, even better, I am sitting alongside the supremely-gifted woman who made all this possible – photographer Mary McCartney.
We are here – all of us, in some form or other – at The Lowry in Salford, for the stunning exhibition Developing: Photographs by Mary McCartney.
Many of the brilliant large-scale images featuring those already mentioned, as well as many others, not least Mary’s sister, Stella, and their late mum, Linda, are dedicated to “The Radical Woman.”
Photography doesn’t run in the McCartney family, it gallops. Linda was a renowned photographer, Mary’s Merseyside-based uncle Mike has been putting people (including Lennon and “our kid”) in the frame since he was a young man, Stella’s life as a top fashion designer goes hand-in-hand with photography – and dad is pretty keen on it, too.
Mary says: “I grew up around photography (a picture taken by Linda of Mary as a baby, being held inside dad’s jacket, adorns the sleeve of Paul’s 1970 debut solo album, McCartney). Mum and dad were always into candid, beautiful photography.
“But I never ever thought I’d be a photographer. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I really picked up a camera. I went into my mum’s archive when she asked me to help her with a book and that inspired me. Also, one of my best friends, Teresa Armitage, who worked on the Hillsborough charity single, inspired me – by showing me her holiday snaps!”
Discussing the photographs all around us, Mary says: “There is a kind of connection between me and the sitter.”
But today Mary is the sitter, and there is an instant connection between her and ECHO photographer Andy Teebay as, immediately after being introduced, they talk cameras for a few minutes.
Mary, meanwhile, will naturally have had countless camera conversations with her family, including, of course, dad Paul – one of the most photographed men on the planet.
He’s not in this exhibition, but Mary says: “I took pictures of him recently for his new tour and for his album Kisses On The Bottom. It is a little intimidating, for two reasons. One, because he has been photographed by some of the most amazing photographers and two, because he’s my dad and so I feel an extra responsibility – I want him to like the photographs.
“But he’s great. He’s got a really playful energy and often starts messing around. He likes spontaneity and I always get something that wasn’t planned – and I like that. He’s interested in photography and my mum was a professional photographer when they met. They would talk about photography and she introduced him to lots of her gallery and fine art photography.”
She adds: “My mum had a way of putting people instantly at ease. She would just be hanging out with you and would take a quick photo – she wouldn’t put the camera in your face.”
Uncle Mike, meanwhile, is always observing and always taking pictures: “He’s an inspiration. Whenever we are together he’s got his camera with him. I like that kind of photography. He’s always fresh and interested and smiling.”
Mary may have been born in London, but she travelled the world from an early age and had parents who were so proud of their roots – and she recalls: “If people asked me I’d say I was half Liverpudlian and half American. My accent used to be a bit of a weird mix.
“We would come up to Merseyside for New Year and stop off in the summer on our way to Scotland. I just love the warm atmosphere in Liverpool and I love the family element to it. It’s beautiful, too. I came up recently to do some photography on the film about (Irish philanthropist) Christina Noble, looked at the blue sky and wonderful architecture and thought ‘Why don’t I come here all the time?’”
This is a woman who was taken on Beatle tours from an early age – by a Beatle!
She reveals: “Yes, dad would drive us round. We’d been in the car for six hours and he would say ‘I’m just doing a tiny detour – this is where I used to live’. He would say ‘Do you understand how many people would love to be shown around by a Beatle?’ – but we just wanted to get home and watch TV!
“It was like when we were telling him to stop playing the guitar when we were watching the telly.”
Hang on – you told Paul McCartney, the real-life former Beatle, to stop playing the guitar?!
Mary laughs and says: “That’s what he would say! And we’d reply ‘Get over it!’ Now I appreciate it, but it’s different when you’re in your early teens. It was similar with my mum’s photography. She was always taking pictures and in a way you dismissed it when you were younger. The amount of pictures she took from a car window... she would get these amazing shots – but when I tried later I missed them!”
All the time we talk, I can feel the eyes of Mary’s sitters on me – and she says: “The subjects are so interesting and they were interesting situations to be in. For example, to take the Duchess of Devonshire’s photograph I got to go to Chatsworth in Derbyshire, while I photographed Lily Cole on a horse outside St Pancras station.
“They are all like little adventures. And it’s great that all these photographs have been brought together in one exhibition because it reminds me of how many amazing people I’ve met.”
And does there need to be a certain chemistry between you? “Chemistry is quite important because if there isn’t any it can be a bit bland,” says Mary.
“The worst thing would be if the sitter had no interest in being there, but I have been quite lucky.”
This is obvious from the evidence all around us.
“It’s a team effort,” stresses Mary. “And I try not to make it too gruelling. I try to set up a nice environment, use nice locations and I like to keep moving.”
It’s naturally difficult for Mary to pick a favourite photograph, but she says: “I love PJ Harvey and I love Helen Mirren, because that was one of the first I took (in 1998). And I love the one of Chrissie Hynde because it’s a bit quirky – she’s lying on the floor in a designer suit next to her cat. And with my Royal Ballet project I immersed myself in their world.”
It strikes Andy and me that Mary’s photographs would look great on the walls of a Liverpool gallery.
“I’ve not been asked but there would be a chance of bringing it to Liverpool,” she says.
Come on, somebody, ask her.
And you could bring your dad, Mary – he’d be able to take you on another Beatle tour!
Developing: Photographs by Mary McCartney is at The Lowry in Salford until Sunday June 9.