Since 2013, a major exhibition of Linda McCartney’s photography has travelled the globe, visiting Vienna, Montpellier, Seoul, Glasgow, Liverpool and Australia, and opened this week in Tucson, Arizona. The Linda McCartney Retrospective celebrates Linda’s 30-year photography career, from her initial success capturing the music scene of the 1960s, her street photography and photos of the natural world, right through to images of her domestic life with Paul and their children.
The exhibition is co-curated by Paul and Mary McCartney, who, along with the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, delved into Linda’s vast archive to tell her story. The result is a journey through Linda’s life, seeing subjects and issues that mattered to her quite literally through her lens.
Although the Retrospective has opened in other locations before, this is the first time the exhibition has been hosted in North America, and the first time it has been hosted by an academic institution. CCP students have the very exciting opportunity to study Linda’s work through musical performances, lectures and more… including putting some of their own questions to Paul!
So, for this month’s ‘You Gave Me The Answer’ we thought we’d give you a taster of that very special Q&A session, as Paul revealed his thoughts on Linda’s craft, and their creative influence on each other…
CCP students: The Linda McCartney Retrospective exhibition is split into different themes of Linda’s work: artists, photographic exploration and so on. Which area of her photography was Linda most excited about?
Paul: I think one of the most interesting things about Linda’s photography is her journey. She started off in Tucson with [accomplished photographer] Hazel Larsen Archer - she happened to go to Hazel’s class who said, ‘Get yourself a camera, take some pictures and come back next week’. So, that was the first lesson and Linda found it a lot of fun.
Then when Linda went back to New York and got involved in the music scene. She began taking pictures for music magazines like Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy. She would be at the front at a concert taking pictures of music she loved and was knowledgeable about. She once told me about the time she was taking pictures of B.B. King, whose music she adored. She felt very privileged to be in that position. Another photographer next to her was a guy who was sent along to take photos, and he asked Linda, ‘Who’s this? Who is it I’m photographing?’ And she had to tell him, ‘It’s B.B. King!’ Her love of music and photography really came together then.
After we got married, her photography started to focus on family life with the kids, horses, countryside and landscapes. Whatever situation she was in she would use it for her art, and her craft naturally developed that way. At one point she heard about cyanotypes and became really fascinated by the whole idea of printing photos herself. She loved treating the paper haphazardly and the whole process of putting it out on the balcony in the sun to develop: she thought it was magic. So, I would say she was excited about all her photography, because it was her life.
CCP students: You and Linda shared a creative partnership through the music you made together and with Wings. Did this creative partnership extend to photography as well?
Paul: I was very into photography, so I could relate to what she was doing. But I knew she was better. There was never any question of that. I admired her skills, and we could talk about photography. For example, we’d talk about light settings, or lack of! She wasn’t a big light meter person. She would guess it which is quite amazing actually when you look at some of the pictures. There’s this photo of James in Scotland where he’s jumping in the air and I’m balancing on the fence, and I’m sure there’s an awful lot of technical stuff going on in that photo that I wouldn’t begin to know about. Linda had to capture James’ motion, so there’s a shutter speed involved. She had to get the distance and the foreground and background all in focus. She had a natural skill for all that.
I remember talking to [art dealer] Robert Fraser once about what constituted a good picture, and we ended up both saying that you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time. Then you’ve got to know when to click. Linda was very good at that. She could make people very comfortable; she was not one for those long photo sessions. Instead, she would take one or two casual shots and then put the camera away. She didn’t like a huge set-up with lots of lights and things: she wanted her subjects to be at ease.
This is just a snapshot of Paul’s Q&A with the CCP students – to read the full piece, head to LindaMcCartney.com. You can also join the Linda McCartney mailing list for the latest news on exhibitions, books and other photo-related projects.
The Linda McCartney Retrospective is at the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography from 25th February to 5th August 2023 and is free to visit. For more information, head to the CCP website.