Through Linda’s lens

Linda McCartney captures both the electrifying public and quiet private lives of rock musicians in Linda McCartney’s Sixties

Jimi Hendrix, as photographed by Linda McCartney.

Jimi Hendrix, as photographed by Linda McCartney.

“Linda had an eye for honesty,” says Paul McCartney of his late wife, Linda McCartney. “Her pictures are all very natural, nothing was posed.” Given the amazing composition and personality present in her photographs, this statement is hard to believe. Linda McCartney’s skill at capturing the vulnerability and charm of 1960s musicians—soon to be rock legends—is unsurpassed.

McCartney, who died of breast cancer in 1998, was the daughter of one of the founders of Eastman-Kodak. She took an interest in photography at a young age. After receiving a degree in fine arts from the University of Arizona, she moved to New York to become a photographer for Town and Country, eventually landing a job with the newly developed Rolling Stone magazine. She began photographing musicians in the early ‘60s, subsequently meeting Paul.

Linda McCartney’s Sixties, an exhibit now on display at NMA Underground, features McCartney’s photographs of 1960s rock musicians. The photographs, taken with only natural or available light, are stunning. The selection of platinum prints, silvertone and color photography portrays the lives of popular performers with honesty and integrity. Images range from onstage performances to private moments at home.

One more famous photo features Paul McCartney lying on his back, bare-skinned, with baby daughter Mary over his lap. Taken in low light, the shadows lend the image a private quality that inspires trust, giving viewers a glimpse of what life behind the scenes is like, while still preserving the privacy of home.

At-home photos, however, do not occupy much of the exhibit. McCartney’s involvement with Paul is in many ways understated. What comes through in this selection of her work is her ability to capture the personality of each artist, be it the personality that comes through in personal, private moments, in public appearances or on stage.

In one photograph, McCartney captures an electrifying Jimi Hendrix onstage. Hendrix stands in the spotlight, a look of intensity on his face, his arm parallel with the guitar. The reverberation of the last chord is almost audible, while the stark contrast of black and white reflects the fervor of the concert. Compare this to another, more intimate, portrait of Janis Joplin outside an apartment building. The shadows in the photo are much more subtle; her face is soft, and she looks almost embarrassed that the camera is so close. Yet next to this is a photo of Joplin, face lifted, screaming a note. The shadows are darker and her face is farther away, her expression strong and rebellious.

The captions next to each photo, excerpts from McCartney’s book Portrait of an Era, help reveal her purpose: to uncover the depth of her subjects, as opposed to the glamour of the profession; the beauty of daily life instead of the artifice of public appearance.