Looking Back: A Linda McCartney Exhibition
Visiting The Walker Art Gallery – Linda McCartney Retrospective Exhibition
Well it’s safe to say this summer hasn’t been all we intended. Lockdown has left many people confined within our homes and unable to visit many of the places that become summer tradition. One tradition of my summer is visiting galleries and exhibitions as I love exploring photography and other forms of art and often seek inspiration from my gallery and exhibition visits. Though, as everyone is aware, almost all galleries, museums and exhibitions have shut their doors to visitors this summer due to the pandemic which means many places have had to adapt and hold online exhibitions and events.
About mid way through summer, my mum brought a certain exhibition to my attention. The Linda McCartney Retrospective was to be held in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, which is about an hours drive from my home. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak the exhibition had been postponed due to the closure of the Walker Art Gallery for a total of 17 long weeks until it finally reopened its doors on 15th July. The Linda McCartney exhibition was one of the first open to the public and I very much did not want to miss the opportunity for a day trip out viewing some of McCartney’s greatest works so asked my mum to book the tickets right away.
So where to start?
Well first of, who is Linda McCartney?
The average person will know her as the first wife of the Beatles Paul McCartney, but what many don’t know is her work as an American photographer. McCartney seemed to love taking photographs, and a hobby soon turned into a pioneering career. She became a professional photographer in the mid-1960s, and her renowned and notable work features portraits of Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, among many others. In 1968 she was the first female photographer whose work was featured as the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, with a portrait of Eric Clapton. In 1974, Linda and Paul appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, Linda becoming the first person to both feature on and taken a photo for the cover of the magazine - a reflection of Linda’s life both in front of and behind the lens. Following her marriage to Paul McCartney in 1969, Linda’s photographs became more intimate and emotional but retained the relaxed and ‘in the moment’ essence.
The exhibition is open from 8th August to 1st November 2020, and my family and I visited on Wednesday 26th August, hoping the weekday would be slightly less busy. I have to say, given that the ticket allow for limited entry, I thought the exhibition would be much less crowded than it was. Whilst I didn’t feel particularly at risk, and most visitors were wearing masks, I did think “how is this a limited number?” as social distancing was a challenge with the number of people in the exhibition. Anyway, that is getting a bit of topic, so rant over! Lets go back to talking about the exhibition itself.
Photography of any sort was not allowed in the exhibition due to copyright, so unfortunately I don’t have any images I can use to support my words so lets hope I am good at descriptive writing!
The exhibition was spread out over a single floor, with walls dividing different segments of work. Various themes are covered, from the family life, self-portraits and nature to the sixties and social commentary. On most of the walls, the work was around A3 size and hung in frames resting at the same level, evenly spaced out in a single continuous line, sometimes spreading over two or three walls. This way of displaying the work creates a sense of continuity that guides viewers through the exhibition and leads your eye from one image to the next. The even spacing also creates a sense of rhythm that is very calming and allows viewers to take there time looking at each individual image.
For each segment, there would be one image that was printed directly onto the wall, at a much larger scale than the other work. These larger prints would fill the entire wall and be in the region of two to three meters high with a width (depending of if the image was portrait or landscape) between 1.5 meters and 4 meters. This might sound like the images would therefore be very domineering and overbearing of all the other work, but I found that, whilst eye catching, they drew the eye either at the beginning or end of each section. This is most likely due to the fact that these larger prints were often the more monotone images and had a lighter, almost pastel like quality to them that creates harmony and a sense of balance between the wall sized prints and smaller framed work. Each was an enlarged version of one of the images featured in each section.
The exhibition shows a lot of archive material as well as just the images some of which will be seen by the public for the first time. The achieve pieces I remember are one of her diaries from the 1960s, her cameras, photographic equipment and vintage magazines that she shot the covers for or even was in herself. This archive material adds a personal feel to the exhibition and makes the work more sentimental in a way that reminds people that McCartney was not only a brilliant photographer, but a photographer who was very laid back with her approach, just waiting for that decisive moment to capture raw feelings and atmospheres. Enhancing this, near the end of the exhibition, were the family segment was, there was audio playing in the background. The audio work was, from what I could tell, light hearted chatter between Linda and her subjects, mainly focusing on the Beatles. To me it seems like the audio represents the style of Linda’s work; light hearted and jovial. The audio wasn’t to loud, and made it feel like you were in the scenes of her photographs, which really helps set the mood and atmosphere of the work and exhibition as a whole.
As I mentioned early on in the post, there were quite a lot of people at the exhibition and from what I saw, a range of ages and a variety of characters. Many people who know of Linda McCartney, know her simply because of her relationship with Paul and even I wasn’t aware that she was such a prolific photographer and so well respected both in the 1960’s and now. I think many people who visited the exhibition, left knowing about her work and I therefore believe the exhibition has brought an awareness to her photographic career and made it accessible to a wider audience.
Visiting the exhibition was very interesting and appealing and I’m glad my parents and I decided to pay it a visit. I feel like I have learnt a lot from seeing Linda’s work and I hope to take away a few key lessons. One being that sometimes even if images aren’t perfectly composed, the feel and atmosphere in the image is what makes it great; and two, relax, take your time and don’t rush the images. Just snap away and you never know when that decisive moment will appear. And finally let the subjects get comfortable around you and the final images are likely to feel a lot more personal and real.
Now, as I mentioned before, no photography was allowed in the exhibition. However, I find it would not be a photography blog if I didn’t include photographs somewhere. So here, enjoy some images I took of the postcards and prints I bought from the exhibition shop and some shots of the catalogue showing some of my favourite images from the collection.
(Exhibition Catalogue and all images photographed from it ©2019 Linda Enterprises Ltd.)