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Mary McCartney, daughter of Paul McCartney, has photo show in Toronto
When I first screamed my heart out for Paul McCartney at Maple Leaf Gardens back in 1965, I never imagined that years later, I’d not only have the thrill of interviewing the famous Beatle on several occasions but also meeting his beloved first wife, the talented Linda McCartney, who exhibited her photography in Toronto in 1990.
Five years later, I found myself in their daughter Stella’s tiny Notting Hill studio, as she launched her very first collection. My Fashion Television producers needed images of the fashion gathering held at Stella’s studio the night before, so the designer turned us on to her older sister, Mary, to help out.
Mary was a budding photographer following in her mother’s footsteps and supplied us with some gritty images that wonderfully captured the spirit of the stylish party, attended by such friends and model luminaries as Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss.
While Stella went on to become one of the fashion world’s most influential designers, Mary McCartney has become an accomplished photographer whose easy, uncontrived style smacks of spirited spontaneity. Known for her celebrity portraiture, she has a knack for relaxing her subjects, capturing intimate moments that speak of ease and a certain sensuality.
The mother of four young boys ranging in age from 1 to 13, the 43-year-old McCartney will be in Toronto Thursday for the opening of an exhibit at Yorkville’s Izzy Gallery, entitled Developing, which will feature 15 of her large-scale images shot over the past decade. I spoke with the photographer on the phone from London this week about her work, her late mother’s influence, and the humble nature of her ultra-famous family.
Q: What was it about photography that really turned you on in the first place?
A: I grew up watching my mother taking photographs. She’d always have a camera with her and throughout her day, she’d just randomly, suddenly pick it up and take a picture quite quickly. She made it look easy and very natural. When I became an adult, I worked in picture research, thinking maybe I’d work in a gallery, but not taking pictures myself because I felt intimidated. Then my mom asked me to go into her archives and help edit pictures with her for exhibitions and books, and when I looked through her contact sheets, it married up those memories I had of watching her taking pictures. Looking at the contact sheets inspired me because the images were seemingly quite simply taken, in available light, but what they looked like on the contact sheets was really special and personal and intriguing. I liked the variety of her subjects and her images, all in her very confident, elegant style. From there, I got inspired to do it myself.
Q: I’m sure your dad taught you a lot about the impact of imagery, too. He often camped it up for the cameras, inherently understanding what photographers go for. All that consciousness of image must have affected you.
A: Photography is what brought my mom and dad together. My mom was passionate about photography and rock ’n’ roll. That’s what brought her to London and that’s when they met. She was taking photographs of The Beatles during a press day they were having. Obviously my mom was beautiful and they were attracted to each other. But my dad was a huge advocate of my mom’s photography, because I think he connected with how relaxed she made him feel and how, with such ease, she would get really interesting pictures. He thought that was quite special in her style. He loved her photography because she made it look easy, but when you looked at the pictures, she got so much of her subject in there. There was a real kind of connection in the camera with her subjects and her.
Q: You’ve shot all kinds of celebrities. How do you relax a subject?
A: I try to gauge what my subject wants to do and we chat a bit before. I’ll just try to make sure that they know that I’m going to work with them to try and get some great shots, rather than impose my view on them. Throughout the shoot I’ll keep evaluating how comfortable they are. If it seems to be getting a bit more difficult for them, then I take a break, get them to walk around a bit and get them to sit back down again. You know, keep it moving.
Q: The fashion arena has also provided some wonderful opportunities. What is it about that world that intrigues you?
A: Models are much more comfortable in front of the camera, so it’s nice. I don’t do very much fashion anymore, but when I do I love coming up with an idea for a story that you can tell over eight to 12 images, which is really refreshing. I also realize how top models are really great models. Some look beautiful, but they’re not necessarily that good at telling a story. They may have one amazing look, but the really top models can tell different stories and perform different characters in front of the camera.
Q: Tell me about your work with Kate Moss. What makes her such a profoundly interesting subject?
A: She is so beautiful, you just don’t want to stop shooting her. And she’s got different personas in front of the camera, so that’s quite interesting. But also you can tell she’s got a lot of depth as a character in real life as well, so she’s intriguing on different levels. She’s a little bit naughty and she’s got a great sense of style. And she’s got an opinion on things.
Q: There’s such an air of humility about you and your family, considering the wealth of talent you all possess. And you have a kindness and compassion towards people. I guess it’s just a true love of humanity that seems to shine though in the work that you do.
A: It’s lovely that you say that. I think it probably goes back to my parents in that they’ve always been passionate about what they did. My mom was passionate about photography. She’s like me now. I don’t feel satisfied if I’m not taking pictures. And then my dad is passionate about his music and he’s got an artistic sensibility. As a songwriter, I don’t think he could ever become too gentrified and above the real world because I don’t think he would find the lyrics and the inspiration that he needs to carry on. Both my mother and my father had a real work ethic and I think we’ve instinctively picked that up over the years. We only feel satisfied when we’re doing projects that we care about. That’s definitely been influenced by them.
Q: They taught you well. Now you’re the mother of four boys. How has motherhood changed you as an artist? How has it toyed with your artistic eye?
A: That’s an interesting question. I think it’s made me focus more on what I’m going to take pictures of, because I don’t have time to waste. It’s also made me relaxed a bit more in my style. Because so many spontaneous moments happen with kids, it’s made me appreciate my more spontaneous pictures. Those are the ones I value the most. A lot of the pictures that are my favourite ones are the ones that have ironically been taken in the least amount of time.
Q: In this age of Instagram, when everyone seems to be a photographer, and with so many sophisticated technical tools at everybody’s disposal, what is it that really does separate fine art photography from so much of the fare that we’re bombarded with, in such a variety of media platforms?
A: It’s interesting, because fine art photography can be anything. I’ve even considered, in the future, doing a book of my own Instagram pictures because I love taking those quick pictures that are in a way throwaway. I like the spontaneity. I love the fact that there is that technology that everyone can take pictures. It makes you realize how artistic a lot of people are and how it gives them the outlet for that. You don’t have to know how to use a camera, and figure out your shutter speed and your light settings. But it also makes me appreciate that sometimes when I’m taking pictures, and I’m taking them on my old film camera or even on a high-end digital camera, it is still quite complicated, to set up the camera, to think about what depth of field you want to get, what exposure, what film quality. . . . It still takes a certain amount of consideration and I think that is what separates the social media pictures from fine art pictures. But it’s pretty amazing that you can take great pictures on your phone and some of the filters that you can apply now really are quite flattering. Still, sometimes there’s something to be said for having to think it through and taking a bit more time over it.
Q: When you look back at that iconic image of you as a wee baby, your face sticking out of your dad’s coat on that memorable first solo album of his, what goes through your mind?
A: I think it’s a really sweet, amazing, quite eccentric, family snapshot. But as a photographer, I look at it and completely see why my mom took it because it was this beautiful moment. My dad used to zip me up in his coat and they’d go horse riding together in Scotland. He’d carry me in his coat on horseback, which you’d never do in a million years these days. But it’s that light really that strikes me about that photograph. You can see she’s taken it right at the end of the day, where there’s that beautiful kind of sunset orange glow, which had this real softness. I think that really makes the photograph because I think dad is really responding to that light and that moment. It’s a captive moment, which I think is why it’s a picture that is a historic one. It’s not contrived. You can tell it’s got real intimacy to it.