Book Review: Linda McCartney, a Life in Photographs

Linda McCartney: Life in Photographs

Taschen, $69.99 ISBN 978-3-8365-2728-6

Although probably best-known as the less irritating half of Paul and Linda McCartney, the late Linda McCartney - neé Eastman - was well-known in her own right long before she married Paul. When they met, Paul was at the height of his fame in The Beatles and Eastman was making a name for herself as a photographer, moving about within the closely-knit music scene of the late 1960s. 

I am ashamed to say that until I flicked through and subsequently bought this book, I didn't have a particularly high opinion of Linda McCartney's photography. Of her work, I had only seen a handful of unexciting, slightly wooden-looking live and promotional shots from the late 1960s. You can see them in the early pages of 'Life in Photographs' - there's Jimi Hendrix, face hidden under the shadow of his hat, and slightly out of focus. Jim Morrisson of The Doors, eyes closed and hopelessly out of focus, Pete Townsend - little more than a colorful blur - and a messy, rushed-looking group shot of a clearly chemically-uncompliant Grateful Dead. Before I came across this book (or if I had stopped flicking sooner rather than later) I would have arrogantly lumped Linda McCartney in with countless other photographers who have floated around the music scene over the decades and owe their success largely to their proximity to fame. Just another pretty girl with an SLR, the type that crowds press pits and backstage dressing rooms everywhere. More fool me. 

If I hadn't found 'Life in Photographs', I would never have known about Linda McCartney's best work. Portraiture was without a doubt her strength (her 1969 portrait of model Twiggy is almost voyeuristic in its intimacy, and Frank Zappa is disturbingly piercing in his 1968 sitting) but with the inevitable exception of her husband, her best images are refreshingly celebrity-free. Ignore the 70s schmaltz of sequinned bandleader Paul, gazing self-indulgently into a dressing-room mirror, at the heart of this collection are the many domestic studies of their children. McCartney's family are captured with an extraordinary tenderness, but few images in this collection veer into sentimentality. At her best, McCartney marries an unusually acute sense of composition with an intuitive feel for lighting. Amongst her finest - and earliest - family portraits shows her husband and their young daughter Mary. Paul holds Mary close to his chest, swaddling her in his sheepskin jacket. It is evening, and father and daughter are bathed in the warmth of the final rays of the sun. Combining the intimacy of a snapshot with the dispassionate, technical eye of a master photographer this image, which graced the rear cover of Paul McCartney's otherwise unremarkable 1970 album 'McCartney', is amongst her best work.

This father-daughter portrait is far from the only example of Linda McCartney's talent in 'Life in Photographs'. A large, heavy book richly printed in both color and monochrome, this collection is as much a touching document of a growing family as it is a career retrospective. It is clear that as a photographer, McCartney was most comfortable with the familiar. Her children, her husband, their home. But out of such quotidian surroundings she conjured some of the most emotionally and technically satisfying portraits that I have ever seen. At its best, her work reveals an extraordinary delicacy, undeniable technical mastery, and a restless eye for the peculiar in the midst of the parochial. 


Barnaby Britton is Reviews Editor of dpreview.com and a part-time music photographer. You can see a selection of his after-hours work at www.photoinsensitive.com.

Comments

Total comments: 24
Curt Geiger
By Curt Geiger (Sep 29, 2011)

Best veggy sausages I've ever tasted... ;-)

0 upvotes
renapearl
By renapearl (Sep 18, 2011)

Errrrr, interesting that within the first sentence of this review the author is calling Paul McCartney irritating, that's his opinion, but not the best way to start a review on a photographic book. The one thing I liked about the review was the authors honesty on his ignorance of Linda McCartney's photographic work, which tells a lot about Mr Britton. Come on now, Linda McCartney's work has appeared in many magazines and exhibitions over the year, where have you been. I think what would have greatly improved the standard and professionalism of this review would have been to show the photographs that were written about.
In 1988 a book titled Sun Prints of Linda McCartney's work was published which showed what a craft person and fine photographer she was.

2 upvotes
Digital Traveler
By Digital Traveler (Sep 15, 2011)

At a cost of $40 think twice about buying this book. Linda McCartney was a snapshot photographer, not really a professional. Paul confirmed this in an interview when he mentioned how most pros took dozens of shots while Linda would take a single quick snap.

Sadly, nothing worked for Linda. In her early years with Paul she tried to be a musician and failed. Then Linda sought recognition in her own way as a photographer. The only thing going for her was that she had access to the Beatles and other groups, while actual pro photographers could only dream of having such unrestricted access. Finally, without achieving significant recognition in photography, Linda changed direction towards cooking and anti-cancer recipes. It was too late. Nothing could save her from her awful fate.

I would recommend waiting until this book hits the Clearance table and then buy it for $10 or less. It is astonishing that the list price is $70! Only the most hardcore Beatles fan would pay this much.

1 upvote
SM7
By SM7 (Sep 14, 2011)

Camera reviews? Of course not. This is Amazon.com.

0 upvotes
johnbandry
By johnbandry (Sep 13, 2011)

I saw these photos in an exhibition in London recently. I was not particularly impressed. They struck me as no more than competent snapshots. The chief interest is that the subjects are mostly music world or other celebrities. It left me lukewarm at best.

0 upvotes
Dave Deacon
By Dave Deacon (Sep 13, 2011)

From what I've seen of LM's photography it looks good. Family and famous people. Given her privileged position, this forms an important part of rock history.

I never liked PM. Never met him but the media seemed to favour JL. This was backed up by the music with JL's gritty edgey deep music against PM's ditty stuff. Some excellent tunes mind but they lack depth. So, the media's view is backed imv by the music. I could not imagine PM writing Imagine or a Day in the Life. Mind don't forget George - Something is truly excellent among others. If you can, see the Concert for George. See too the coldness between PM and the brilliant George Brown and the Monty Python sketches. Could never imagine PM getting into bed with Monty Python...

0 upvotes
Dave Deacon
By Dave Deacon (Sep 13, 2011)

Read Joe Brown

0 upvotes
bugsnest
By bugsnest (Sep 13, 2011)

Dave, your comment is as out of place as the start of this review?? What does Paul's musical depth (or lack of it, as you feel) have anything to do with Linda McCartney the photographer??? Did you mean to post this someplace else??

2 upvotes
apollo c vermouth
By apollo c vermouth (Sep 13, 2011)

...the media seemed to favour...the media view is backed. JL's gritty edgey deep...Could never imagine PM getting into bed with Monty Python.

Ever heard of the Eleanor Rigby, For No One, Helter Skelter?
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band?

Paul wrote the middle of Day in The Life. Added the 'Turn you on line' and the ending crescendo was his concept.
I could go on.

But, as otherwise mentioned, a photo book review. No music being played.

1 upvote
JonB1975
By JonB1975 (Sep 13, 2011)

That's like starting a review of 'The Tourist' by saying "I don't like Brad Pitt"....

Irrelevant and poor review writing.

1 upvote
prospero
By prospero (Sep 13, 2011)

It's a pity that the reviewer starts the review with a very cheap shot about Paul McCartney which was completely unnecessary and not remotely relevant to the book itself. Apart from that, I found it an interesting read.

4 upvotes
timo
By timo (Sep 13, 2011)

Well, Paul McCartney is irritating. Radiates a kind of self-righteousness. No hint of a sense of humour. Mind you, I've always found her pretty irritating too ...

As for the review, not exactly deep, and, strangely, it tells you very little about her photography technically.

0 upvotes
roblarosa
By roblarosa (Sep 13, 2011)

I've never found Paul irritating. If you don't think he doesn't have a sense of humor you've never read or heard an interview with him.

3 upvotes
SUE O''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''BRIEN

I totally agree with you! I don't see where trashing PM has anything to do with a review of Linda's photography.

2 upvotes
the-bunker
By the-bunker (Sep 13, 2011)

I thought she was better known for her range of sauces (& now pre-packed food).

I'm not trying to mock her achievements - I just genuinely didn't know she was a photographer & it's not how most people know of her (ie: videos of her with Wings & sauces right).

Hopefully this book will help put that right...

1 upvote
brettb3
By brettb3 (Sep 13, 2011)

Perhaps next time you should focus on what you know and not take unnecessary shots at one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

7 upvotes
Drareg Ajerap
By Drareg Ajerap (Sep 13, 2011)

A well written review. More of this please.

0 upvotes
fucile
By fucile (Sep 13, 2011)

I always loved the photos she took for the McCartney album. I ALSO cherished that album as some of Paul's most intimate and brilliant works. This album was made during the height of the Beatles breakup and a very trying time in Paul's life. He plays all the instruments and recorded the entire album at his home.

1 upvote
Gary Dean Mercer Clark
By Gary Dean Mercer Clark (Sep 13, 2011)

A music critic too? Paul's 1970 self titled album is included in the book," 1001 albums to listen to before you die", so McCartney is held in high esteem by other critics. Maybe I'm Amazed is probably one of the best songs that Paul wrote.

Now back to Linda. She was an "ok" photographer. She was a wonderful person, very much loved by Paul and hated by many as they think she was behind the breakup of the Beatles along with Yoko Uno. Whatever. I've seen the book and wasn't impressed, but did enjoy many of the images of the family.

4 upvotes
mrosin
By mrosin (Sep 13, 2011)

Sheesh, what a snotty review. We get it, you don't like Paul McCartney. But how is that relevant to this book? Based on what you wrote in this review, I don't like you much either but I wouldn't make that the centerpiece of a review of your photography. And for your information, McCartney's 1970 debut album was just reissued this year and got good to great reviews across the music industry, from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and other music critics. So why make comments about something you clearly know nothing about.

I'm glad you finally educated yourself about Linda's work. It's a shame you had to stoop to such petty remarks about her husband.

9 upvotes
BrianK
By BrianK (Sep 13, 2011)

mrosin, I think you're being a little harsh.

0 upvotes
apollo c vermouth
By apollo c vermouth (Sep 13, 2011)

Stopped by for a Linda photo review and get an additional hate on Paul story.
So hey, two for one?

As usual, well played mrosin.
Beating me to the punch again.

0 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Sep 13, 2011)

Hey now, I love (most of) McCartney's Beatles and 'band on the run' era Wings stuff. Never said I didn't. McCartney himself kind of irritates me a little, and I don't care much for a lot of his solo work but that's only my opinion, feel free to disagree. And remember this is a book review, on a photography website, not a music review on a music website...

1 upvote
rowanberry
By rowanberry (Sep 18, 2011)

As Doctor Johnson remarked, Barney: "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it." Yes, this was presented as a book review, on a photography web site, but you included gratuitous remarks decrying the character and much of the music of one of the World's most popular entertainers. So it's hardly surprising Macca's fans feel justified in knocking you down!

1 upvote
Total comments: 24