Linda McCartney Retrospective: Photo Exhibition

I do like a great photo! Cartier- Bresson, Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Annie Liebowitz, Diane Arbus….wonderful!

Art exhibitions have been severely affected by the restrictions of this Covid year but in the midst of the chaos, Ballarat Art Gallery in regional Victoria managed to open its doors to a major photography exhibition in the work of Linda McCartney. I had just missed this exhibition in Glasgow in 2019, so I was super excited to see it in my home town.

I wandered through the rooms of this wonderful old gallery taking in the work of this world – renowned photographer who, like so many women was known for who she married.  Being the ” wife of Paul McCartney,” there was little space to assert her own identity and she became known for her veganism more than her photography for many years.

Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney. George Harrison

A thumbnail……… Linda McCartney was an American musician. photographer, animal rights activist and entrepreneur and the daughter of the Famous Eastman Kodak empire. Her background gave her access to the rich and the famous so launched into London in the 1960’s with a camera in hand and youth in her heart. She married Paul McCartney in 1969 and together they had 3 children while launching her photographic career and later being keyboard player with Wings, after the Beatles split up. She died in 1998 of cancer,

Linda McCartney

Her photography documents and reflects the world around her-the life of family, a musician’s world and the cultural revolution of London in the 1960’s and beyond. It’s intimate, documentary, interesting, technically adept  and of its time. I came away from the exhibition a little disappointed and underwhelmed.

Paul McCartney and their children

How do you respond to an exhibition like this one? The photos are safe, comfortable, predictable. The family album of a technically very skilled photographer with an eye for documentary composition. I wanted more. I wanted a strong emotional response and to find awe and wonder. I could not find it here. Let me show  you the photos I did like.

Paul McCartney taking a leap into a pool has an energy, intensity and interest. A “look, enjoy, smile, move on” photo.

I love this photo for its narrative quality. The old lady looking disgruntled, muttering something about ” young people and long hair….” You can imagine the dialogue, Menacing stares from the  group of men…. This photo leaves room to create the storyline. It captures generational wrath and opens a conversation. I love it. A great photo.

Days later I reflect on whether it’s enough if photographs are fixed in time and documentary. How much were Linda McCartney’s photos popular because they documented the rock gods we loved in the 1970’s and because they are now a memoir for a generation of Baby Boomers? Is it Ok to judge photography from the past against the technically mind- boggling wizardry of modern day photographic techniques? Does composition and storytelling still have a vital place in making a photograph talk to us? What part does subject matter play in a photograph’s power to communicate? I remember a photo of rotting apples, in another exhibition made me revulsed and squirm! It was brilliant!

I decided to check out some reviews of this exhibition and leave you with this insight….

The retrospective is always threatened by the the fact that its subject may now be dated and stale. McCartney’s photos are of a certain inimitable period, one which reconfigured popular culture completely. Linda McCartney stood at the heart of this movement….She was strong enough to stand over the fire that was the Beatles, Stones, Clapton and Hendrix, without burning up in its flame. This ability and her focus on the human and the natural, is what allows this retrospective to be definitely of the period, yet also so timeless.”

Remy Greasley Art in Liverpool.com

19 November 2021 | Arts

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