An Eye For Honesty: Linda McCartney
For this next few Spotlights, we are going to be taking a look at celebrity photographers. Not photographers who photograph celebrities, but rather celebrities who also happen to be photographers. Some you may have heard of, some you may not, but we think you’ll enjoy them all. We’re starting off with Linda McCartney. Most people know Linda McCartney only as being the “wife of Paul” or being paired with Yoko as helping to break up the Fab Four. Linda, however, was a well-known photographer long before she met and married a Beatle.
She began her career with unmitigated boldness. While working as a receptionist for Town & Country magazine, she intercepted an invitation to a press conference the Rolling Stones were holding on a yacht on the Hudson River. She passed herself off as the official photographer and ended up being the only photographer invited to stay with the group.
Almost overnight, she found herself in huge demand as a professional photographer. She was soon hired by Rolling Stone magazine and photographed legends such as The Who, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Grace Slick, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, Simon & Garfunkel, The Doors, and, of course, the Beatles.
In 1968 her photograph of Eric Clapton made the cover and made her the first woman to have a photo featured there (even before Annie Leibovitz). In 1974, both she and Paul were made the cover, which made her the only person both to have taken a photo, and to have been photographed, for the front cover of the magazine.
After her marriage to McCartney and joining Paul’s band Wings, the rigors of touring took center stage and her photography became less of a priority. She said, “Playing in a band totally stopped me from being a working photographer, my career just stopped. Before that I was taking pictures for all sorts of magazines and was working on photographs for a book about rock and roll. But it stopped because I joined a band and all the time that I was in that band was time that I would have been taking photographs. Photography was more important to me than music — but my husband and my family were more important to me than photography, and I was prepared to give up photography for them.” This didn’t stop her from taking pictures. Far from it. In fact, some of her most amazing work was of herself and her family. She had a natural talent for capturing intimate, candid moments – unposed and simple.
Linda McCartney was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 – though her illness did not dissuade her passion for photography. She took this wonderful self-portrait in 1997 just months before she died. It was taken in the artist Francis Bacon’s studio. You can see her reflection on the left in the cracked mirror. Her hair is seen short, a result of the chemotherapy. One critic said of this photo “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.”
“Because of her perception,” Paul McCartney said, “Linda could see the way you are inside, beyond the act or the image, and it was that honest reality that she photographed. Linda had an eye for honesty, she saw the truth and that shines through all of the images that she produced. Her pictures are all very natural, nothing was posed.” Linda McCartney led a life that was guided by her passion – her passion for living, for her husband and family, for music, and for capturing that life through photography.