“I was a bit shy and introverted but looking out through the lens…I forgot myself and I could actually see life. This enthusiasm came out of me, and it did, photography changed my life…”[i] -Linda McCartney

Linda McCartney (American, 1941-1998) began taking photographs in the 1960s and never stopped. She is probably best known for her portraits of rock and roll icons and her marriage to the former Beatle Paul McCartney.[ii] However, her entire photographic oeuvre deserves consideration. These images, which are intimate, spontaneous, and at times humorous, document her surroundings, in particular her family, animals, and the natural world. It seemed McCartney knew instinctively when to take the shot. “[She thought] if you are worried about light meters and all that stuff, you just miss it. For [McCartney] it just came from [her] inners…”[iii]

EARLY YEARS

Born in Scarsdale, New York, McCartney grew up in a creative household. Her father was the prominent entertainment lawyer and art collector Lee Eastman. This meant individuals such as the musician Hoagy Carmichael or the painter Willem de Kooning were a constant presence.[iv] While this artistic environment was certainly influential, McCartney describes herself at that time as “a dreamer.”[v] She was the little girl who was always looking out the window at school watching the butterflies.[vi]

Following high school graduation in 1959, McCartney received a two-year Associate in Arts degree from Vermont College in Montpelier.[vii] Afterwards, she transferred to the University of Arizona in Tucson to study art history.[viii] At this point in time photography was solely “an interest” for McCartney.[ix] However, it would soon become “a passion.”[x] Distinguished photographer Hazel Larsen Archer was important in this progression. While in Tucson, McCartney took two evening classes from Archer who introduced her students to the work of Edward Weston, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange. With this exposure, McCartney began to view “photography…as a medium of expansive, emotional range.”[xi] She borrowed a camera from a friend and was “hooked” from that point onward.[xii]

ROCK AND ROLL

In 1965 McCartney moved to New York City and got a job working as an editorial receptionist for Town and Country magazine. This is where she got her “big break as a photographer.”[xiii] Using an unwanted invitation, McCartney attended a promotional party for the Rolling Stones with a camera in tow. In a turn of fate, she was the only photographer allowed into the event which was held on a yacht in the Hudson River.[xiv] This put the inexperienced McCartney in a unique position. Fortunately, her images rose to the occasion. McCartney’s “candid, intimate, and relaxed photographs” not only impressed Town and Country, but other publications as well.[xv]

After the Rolling Stones’ promotional party, McCartney’s career flourished. She became one of the most sought after photographers documenting the musical revolution of the 1960s. McCartney had “a knack for making others feel at ease, and her photographs of the New York and London music scene shed light on moments not often seen by the public.”[xvi] She was “not lined up with all the other photographers taking photos and portraits at press calls.”[xvii] Instead, McCartney took a more informal approach and took pictures “before or after a major event…in a very naturalistic way.”[xviii] Otis Redding, B.B. King, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Pete Townshend, and Jimi Hendrix are just some of the musicians she photographed during this period. Her portrait of Eric Clapton for a 1968 issue of Rolling Stone magazine was particularly important. This was the first time a female photographer had their work featured on the publication’s cover.

In 1967 McCartney would be named the United States’ female photographer of the year and she would meet Paul McCartney in England. Two years later, in 1969, they got married in London. The couple were together for twenty-nine years until her death from breast cancer.[xix]

BEYOND ROCK AND ROLL

McCartney’s work as a photographer has often been overshadowed by her association with the Beatles. However, after she married Paul, she continued to take pictures. While these photographs sometimes still feature rock icons, the rest of the imagery focused on a range of subjects from horses, flowers, and still lifes to portraits of her children and complete strangers. McCartney took a documentary approach with these pictures. As she recorded the world around her, she consistently produced photographs that reflect her sharp eye and impeccable timing. In many ways these works are like McCartney’s portraits from the 1960s, they draw you in and form “a direct sense of connection.”[xx]

Over the course of McCartney’s life, she took black and white as well as color photographs, even when many “serious photographers” regarded the latter with skepticism.[xxi] She was not restricted by the established photographic rules. Instead, McCartney took pictures purely for the pleasure of it. There was no pressure to capture the perfect shot. This freedom opened the door for experimentation. For example, McCartney spent time investigating the nineteenth century technique called sun printing and frequently utilized the Polaroid camera.[xxii] These varying approaches to photography not only allowed her “to test the boundaries of the medium,” but deepened her knowledge of the practice.[xxiii] She may have lacked extensive formal training. Nevertheless, McCartney’s imagery reveals “a fine grasp of light, processing, and composition.”[xxiv]

KAMM COLLECTION

The Kamm Collection has a gelatin silver print called Through a Glass Teapot as well as a lithograph version of the photograph. The Kamms acquired the photograph in 1998 from an exhibition entitled Wide Open at Bonni Benrubi Gallery in Manhattan. This show, which included approximately two dozen photographs, presented “slices of everyday life…frozen in time for each and everyone’s interpretation.”[xxv] It was the last exhibition McCartney worked on before her death.

Through a Glass Teapot was originally taken in Sussex, England in 1996. It features a simple clear glass teapot partly full of hot water sitting on a windowsill. As light comes through the window a reflection of the outdoor landscape is created in reverse in the water. In essence, McCartney pulls the background, which is out of focus, forward into focus inside the teapot.

At first glance the details of this quiet domestic scene could be overlooked. One might miss the leafy tree in the water’s reflection or maybe even the textural quality of the condensation dripping down the interior of the teapot. However, once you closely examine Through a Glass Teapot, you cannot help but recognize McCartney’s keen ability to capture ordinary, yet extraordinary moments on film.

Further Reading/Viewing:

Castle, Allison.  Linda McCartney:  Life in Photographs.  Kӧln, Germany:  Taschen, 2011.

Eshun, Ekow and Reuek Golden.  Linda McCartney:  The Polaroid Diaries.  Kӧln, Germany:  Taschen, 2019.

Fields, Danny.  Linda McCartney.  Los Angeles, CA:  Renaissance Books, 2000.

Linda McCartney website

McCartney, Linda.  Light from Within: Photojournals.  Boston, MA:  Bulfinch Press Book and Little, Brown & Co., 2001.

McCartney, Linda.  Linda’s Pictures:  A Collection Photographs.  New York, NY:  Knopf, 1976.

McCartney, Linda.  Roadworks.  Boston, MA:  Bulfinch Press Book and Little, Brown & Co., 1996.

McCartney, Linda.  Wide Open.  Boston, MA:  Bulfinch Press Book and Little, Brown & Co., 1998.

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[i] https://www.thecollector.com/linda-mccartney-american-photographer-of-the-60s/, 2 June 2022.
[ii] Linda McCartney was also a passionate animal rights activist and a bestselling cookbook author. Her cookbooks promoted a vegetarian diet.
[iii] https://www.lindamccartney.com/esssays/linda-mccartney-and-colour-photography/, 17 May 2022.
[iv] Her mother was Louise Sara Lindner. In 1962 her mother died in a plane crash. That same year Linda would marry Joseph Melville See, Jr. and have a daughter named Heather. They would divorce in 1965. The Eastman name was originally Epstein. There is no relation to the Eastman-Kodak family.
[v] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwLb4ZbKYvE, 6 June 2022.
[vi] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwLb4ZbKYvE, 6 June 2022.
[vii] There is some discrepancy about when McCartney graduated from high school. Some sources say 1959 and others claim that it was 1960. College records seem to imply that the former date in correct. Vermont College changed its name to Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2008.
[viii] Linda McCartney never received a degree from the University of Arizona.
[ix] McCartney, Roadworks, 5.
[x] McCartney, Roadworks, 5.
[xi] Ekow Eshun and Reuek Golden, Linda McCartney:  The Polaroid Diaries, (Taschen, 2019), 8.
[xii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwLb4ZbKYvE, 6 June 2022.
[xiii] https://www.lindamccartney.com, 17 May 2022.
[xiv] The yacht was called the SS Sea Panther.
[xv] https://www.lindamccartney.com, 20 May 2022.
[xvi] https://artguide.com.au/linda-mccartneys-life-from-a-moving-car, 25 May 2022.
[xvii] https://artguide.com.au/linda-mccartneys-life-from-a-moving-car, 25 May 2022.
[xviii] https://artguide.com.au/linda-mccartneys-life-from-a-moving-car, 25 May 2022.
[xix] Paul and Linda McCartney would have three children together: Mary, Stella, and James.
[xx] https://thecoversation.com/amp/on-the-intimate-and-character-revealing-photographs-of-linda-mccartney-pauls-wife-and-a-stunning-artist-170957, 18 May 2022.
[xxi] Ekow Eshun and Reuek Golden, 13.
[xxii] Sun printing, which is also referred to as the cyanotype process, are a nineteenth-century photographic printing process. Sun printing refers to various printing techniques which use sunlight as a developing or fixative agent. The Polaroid camera provided an all-in-one instant development system.
[xxiii] Ekow Eshun and Reuek Golden, 10.
[xxiv] Danny Fields, Linda McCartney, (Los Angeles, CA:  Renaissance Books, 2000), 246.
[xxv] Linda McCartney, Wide Open, (Boston, MA:  Bulfinch Press Book and Little, Brown & Co., 1998,) 7.

Allie Farlowe is a metalsmith, jeweler, and independent arts writer. Her previous professional experience includes museum work in curatorial and registration departments.