Saturday 22 April 2023


A special exhibit of the accomplished photographer’s work runs through early August in Tucson, where she had roots and often retreated with her family.
She photographed nature and animals. She photographed fame. But above all, Linda McCartney photographed the “silly love song” that she and her famous Beatle spouse lived for nearly three decades.

In this sunlit desert city, the Linda McCartney Retrospective at the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography (CCP) is visual confirmation of how that romance played out far from the concert crowds and screaming fans. The exhibit is an intimate journey captured by Linda through the lens of her 35mm Nikon camera — a classic in analog, not digital, imagery.
Though she was already a professional photographer when she first met Paul McCartney in 1967, the collection mainly spotlights what came after. It includes Linda’s striking black-and-white portraits of the Beatles and other music icons: a mischievous-looking Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin draped in white ostrich feathers, a smooth-faced Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton as he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. Linda became the first female photographer to have her work featured on the magazine’s coveted front and later would have her pictures displayed in major galleries around the world.
Sharing wall space at the CCP — which famed Western photographer Ansel Adams helped to found — are lush English landscapes with Linda’s beloved Appaloosa, Lucky Spot, and dear Martha, the family sheepdog, as focal points. Her range of print techniques is also on display, from platinum and sun prints to instant Polaroids.

Most engaging are the images of the McCartneys doing what everyday people do. They hang out together, make faces, pose, pull stunts, laugh, hug. Such moments are rife in the dozens of snapshots that take visitors into the world they had created for themselves, recording the spontaneous antics of what became a family of six, the children and dad goofing around just like the rest of us.

Of course, they weren’t at all like the rest of us. The 176 photos were painstakingly assembled through a cross-continent collaboration by CCP curators Rebecca Senf and Meg Jackson Fox; Paul McCartney and daughter Mary, an established photographer and, like her mother, a vegetarian cookbook author; plus a London-based coterie of McCartney family archivists.
The care taken to tell Linda’s story about life, love and family struck Julianne Setiadi, a biomedical engineering student at the university who took in the exhibit for a second time in April.

“I wish I could have what they had,” Setiadi said. “To be able to spend your life with someone and share that level of intimacy is so rare. I’d like to someday experience that.”

Yet the exhibit, which opened in late February and closes Aug. 6, is also a reminder of what the family lost 25 years ago this month. Linda was 56 when she died of breast cancer at their ranch house a half-hour drive from Tucson’s city center.
Surrounded by vast wild acres of scrubland grasses and cactus, the ranch is where she, Paul and their children — Mary, Heather, Stella and James — enjoyed their privacy and the region’s legendary “sunsets on fire,” as Paul wrote for Wings, the band he and Linda formed after the Beatles split in 1970.

“Tucson was Linda’s place,” recalls Leonard Scheff, a retired attorney and longtime friend. He and his daughter, Stacy, were frequent guests at the house. He remembers dancing with Linda at a New Year’s Eve party where “Paul put on a tape of his latest recording.” As children, Stacy and Stella went to the local water works amusement park together.

“They felt at home here,” Scheff said of the McCartneys. He paused. “It was a long time ago.”

Linda’s Tucson roots and the deep relationship the McCartneys developed with the CCP are why the exhibit exists at all. A conversation with the family, facilitated by former center curator Peter MacGill — for many years, the president of the influential Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York — started everything rolling. Some 15,500 visitors had viewed the exhibit by mid-April. While this is billed as its North American debut, there are no plans to date for taking it to other cities.

“We love a Tucson story,” chief curator Senf said recently, “and we had an opportunity to show the inspiration a University of Arizona student had on photography.”

The Linda McCartney Retrospective Through Aug. 5 at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona at Tucson.

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