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Linda McCartney: An eye for Paul, and more

A new book features images from her days as a rock 'n' roll photographer — and beyond.

May 31, 2011|By Liesl Bradner, Los Angeles Times

Linda McCartney may have married a Beatle, but it was the Rolling Stones who gave the budding photographer her big break. It was 1966, while working as a receptionist in Manhattan, that Linda Eastman, as she was known then, wangled her way aboard a yacht on the Hudson River, a publicity event for the Stones. Soon she was embedded in the late-'60s rock 'n' roll scene, photographing her future husband, Paul McCartney, at a "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album launch party in 1967.

Thirteen years after her death, Paul McCartney and their children, with editor Alison Castle, have selected more than 300 photos from her archive of 200,000 images to produce "Linda McCartney: Life in Photographs" (Taschen, $69.99).

The 288-page tome is not only a intimate peek at family life with the McCartneys, playing and relaxing at their homes in Scotland, London and Arizona, but also a scrapbook of candid, behind-the-scenes shots of such figures and performers as the Doors, Willem de Kooning, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Tim Buckley, Michael Jackson and Johnny Depp.

"She had a knack for blending in, making people feel unguarded and not being intimidated by her," said her daughter Mary on a recent trip to Los Angeles. Mary, also a photographer, published her own book of photographs last fall, "Mary McCartney: From Where I Stand" (Abrams, $35). "I try to take the same informal approach, getting the trust of your sitter and working as a team," she said.

A rarely seen image of a yawning Hendrix backstage in 1967 demonstrates the casual, spontaneous shots for which Linda became famous. "It's quite surprising and funny," said Mary McCartney. "People don't usually see photos of him so relaxed."

Some say it was the presence of a pretty, blond woman behind the lens that put her subjects at ease. Women photographers were not as common as they are today, especially in the music industry. So it was a well-earned distinction when Linda McCartney became the first female photographer to have her work featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, with her portrait of Eric Clapton on the May 11, 1968, issue.

The eldest daughter from a well-to-do Scarsdale, N.Y., family, Linda McCartney briefly studied photography in the 1960s at Tucson's Art Center under the tutelage of Hazel Archer.

"She was inspired by the natural light in Arizona and the American Indian portraits by Edward Curtis," said Mary McCartney, who also noted that her mother was influenced by the gritty beauty of images by Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Ansel Adams.

She stopped taking pictures professionally in the '70s when she had her family.

"We became her subjects," said Mary McCartney, "We took it for granted a camera always being in our face."

Those personal, tender images reflect happy, normal family moments, Paul and son James laughing in a tub immersed in bubbles or Paul in his bathrobe with the kids on their farm in Scotland.

The foreword is written by Paul along with text and insights from daughters Stella, the fashion designer, and Mary, Annie Leibovitz and art historian Martin Harrison.

"She found her confidence in rock 'n' roll. She had a real interest in her subjects and that passion comes through," said Mary McCartney. "She was doing it [photography] because it made her feel complete."

liesl.bradner@latimes.com

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