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.