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"I became like a band member whose instrument was the camera"

4.22.2008



(photo by Linda McCartney)

Another interesting tidbit from the Telegraph (bolding mine):

Before she married a Beatle, Linda McCartney was a professional photographer. During the 1960s, her celebrated shots of rock gods such as Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix (whom she famously photographed mid-yawn) helped to invent the genre of rock photography. She was the first female photographer to have work - a portrait of Eric Clapton - on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

But a new exhibition of her photographs at James Hyman Gallery in Mayfair suggests that she should be remembered not just as someone who documented famous faces, but as an artist in her own right.

Spanning three decades and featuring 28 platinum prints selected by her husband Paul, the show includes photographs of instantly recognisable people such as Mick Jagger and Janis Joplin. There is a fascinating picture of John Lennon and McCartney amicably working together during a recording session at Abbey Road in 1969 - when they were popularly believed to have been at each others' throats.

But the retrospective also presents less familiar photographs that are bold and beautiful, including a moody landscape of the Scottish countryside that recalls the work of Ansel Adams, and a picture of old men wearing flat caps that could have been taken by Bill Brandt.

Perhaps Linda's biggest strength as a photographer was her eye for startling compositions. One of the best photographs on display was taken during a family holiday in their cottage near the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland in 1982. Paul looks playfully relaxed in slippers and dressing gown, balancing on a rickety fence, while his son James leaps from the bonnet of a Land Rover and his daughter Stella sits in the foreground, absorbed in some private game.

It's a formally complex picture: Stella's hunched body visually echoes the sack and the standing stones on the left; James, generating maximum lift-off with his outstretched right leg, mirrors the dog in the background, its body also taut with energy; Paul balances the dark mass of the vehicle and the cottage. James's fearless jump recalls a well-known photograph from 1960 of the French artist Yves Klein leaping off the top of a wall.

Despite its rigour and compositional harmony, the picture wasn't staged. Like Cartier-Bresson, Linda was always searching for the "decisive moment", and here she managed to click the shutter at just the right time, creating an image that not only looks good, but captures her family's characters, too. It is easy to read Paul's balancing act as a metaphor for the difficulty of being a decent dad as well as one of the world's most famous men.

Elsewhere there is a fine shot taken in 1976 in which Paul looks onto the street from a hotel room in Venice (in a neat twist, Linda presents her scrutinised husband looking at other people). He sits in profile on the left, but the true "subject" appears to be the swirling black metalwork of the balcony's balustrade in the centre, again signalling McCartney's sense for intricate and intriguing compositions.

Perhaps the most successful photograph is a self-portrait taken in Francis Bacon's studio in 1997, just months before Linda died of breast cancer. Like the photograph of her family on holiday in Scotland, it is a complex work that repays close attention.

Linda photographs her reflection in a cracked mirror. There she is on the left, her hair clipped short following chemotherapy, her right hand just out of sight as she manipulates the camera on its tripod. The bust on the right is a cast of the death mask of William Blake, which Bacon painted. The two heads talk to each other, as if to say that Linda wanted this photograph to function as a death mask of her own. This is not an easy work: the death mask, shattered mirror, empty sofa and Linda's illness make us reflect on absence, loss and mortality. But it is utterly compelling.

Not every photograph in the show is so good. There are one or two kitsch images, such as a picture of horses frolicking in snow, which I suspect were included because they will sell well, rather than on aesthetic merit. But, a decade after her death, these photographs lend Linda a new lease of life - as an artist.

My two favorites:


Simon and Garfunkel, CBS Studios, New York, 1966





John and Paul recording, Abbey Road, London, 1968 (mentioned in the article)

And then two more photos:


John Lennon, London, 1968


Paul McCartney, 1966 (mentioned in the article)

2 comments:

Jennifer said...

By the time I was 12, I had read at least four Beatles' biographies. Linda Eastman McCartney was a photographer partly by family trade...the Eastman comes from Eastman Kodak. Pretty cool. :-)

Maryann said...

Wow! 4? I had no idea you were such a Beatles fan. Do you have any you specifically recommend?