The most fascinating photograph in the opening space of the Linda McCartney Retrospective at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery is of Brian Jones and Mick Jagger from her first professional assignment.
As editorial assistant at Town & Country Magazine, Linda Eastman (as she then was) had intercepted an invitation to the New York press launch of the Rolling Stones’ 1966 album, Aftermath. In essence, she gatecrashed but ended up as the only photographer invited to the after–party on the band’s yacht on the Hudson. The resulting candid images of the young British musicians are wonderful, and justifiably helped to fast-track her into the world of music photography. In turn, this led to her becoming house photographer at Fillmore East, the legendary but short–lived Manhattan Rock and Blues venue which, from 1968 until its closure in 1971, played host to Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Many of her images from this period are on display.
While a true talent in her own right, Linda is best known for her marriage to a Beatle. She met Paul on an assignment in London to attend the launch of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. Growing up as the daughter of a lawyer whose clients included band leader Tommy Dorsey and artists such as Willem de Kooning, the young Linda was not overwhelmed by the world of the rich and famous, a trait ultimately helpful in bringing Paul’s feet back down to the ground.
Beatlemamia was still huge when Linda arrived in Britain but, with her encouragement, she and Paul travelled around incognito. In the exhibition, we see Paul riding the tube in London, travelling unnoticed in the late 1960s at arguably the height of his fame. We also go behind the scenes with The Beatles. Iain Macmillan took the famous picture of The Beatles crossing Abbey Road but Linda was there capturing small moments like the stack of white coffee cups with discarded chewing gum on their saucers instantly evoking long hours spent in the studio.
Linda already had a child when she met and married Paul and together they went on to have three more. Her career as a music photographer took a back seat and her photographs begin to tell another story – that of a young mother with a famous husband, succeeding in bringing up their brood away from the trappings of fame. We see them in Liverpool, Sussex and Scotland. The rock and roll lifestyle is faraway.
As times goes on, Linda continues to experiment and progress as a photographer. We see her experiment with technologies both old and new including cyanotypes, a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. My thrill at seeing a wall of Polaroids turned to disappointment when I realised they were copies and so lacked the spirit and immediacy of originals.
The audio guide is available free of charge on the gallery’s website and gives insight into the images on view. However, like the sometimes banal exhibition captions, it doesn’t always add much: ‘Linda had an eye for the surreal’, ‘Ginsburg was a hugely influential writer and poet associated with the counter-culture Beat Generation’. My preference was to press play on the Spotify playlist Linda McCartney Retrospective which instantly transported me to Linda’s world.
Nevertheless, this is a thoughtfully curated exhibition. As Linda’s widower and Liverpool’s famous son says in his introduction: “We hope you will enjoy, as we still do, seeing the world through her eyes.”
Main Image: The Beatles at Brian Epstein’s home in Belgravia at the launch of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band London 1967 © Paul McCartney / Photographer: Linda McCartney.
Linda McCartney Retrospective is on at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool until November 1, 2020. Free entry for members of National Museums of Liverpool. Tickets are available to purchase online £9 for adults (£8 concessions).