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Review: Linda McCartney Retrospective

Linda McCartney Retrospective
Walker Art Gallery, 8 August – 1 November 2020

Words, Remy Greasley

Linda McCartney appears to have always been in the right place at the right time. This may seem to reduce her photographic achievements to coincidence, opportunism, and chance, but this is not the case and the Walker Art Gallery’s Linda McCartney Retrospective hammers this point home.

The photos masterfully frame Linda’s life through her own lens. They tell her story – one that’s often dwarfed next to that of her husband, or her photographic subjects (Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix, to name a couple) – in full. We see that it’s a story featuring these icons, not one relying on them.

There is something a little fairytale in Linda’s story: a young, aspiring photographer, being given a shot at the big leagues and taking it, taking it until she has been awarded Rolling Stone’s Female Photographer of the Year (1967), before becoming the first female ever to shoot the cover the following year, all before marrying the biggest of the big. Her life does sound like a dream come true, but in this retrospective we see how genuine Linda’s story was, how uncontrived, how gentle, how fair, and how unassuming it was. Names known in every household from Cheshire to China are shot with the same lens as coal miners and children.

Paul and family. Liverpool, 1978, © Paul McCartney / Photographer: Linda McCartney

The personalities of Linda’s photos are not the only talking points of the exhibition. A selection of photos in and of nature are perhaps the most picturesque of the exhibition, and a handful of painterly-arranged still lifes are speckled throughout. Sun prints (a technique which uses natural light to develop images) and cyanotype (a process to copy images, producing a blue, or cyan, print) are about the extend of Linda’s experimentation with equipment and form, but the fact she manages to get so close to her subject, and the fact her range is so expansive and creative, with what we may consider a bare minimum (for a professional photographer), this lack of experimentation is not something to gripe about.

The retrospective, as a form of exhibition, is always threatened by the fact it’s subject may now be dated and stale, and Walker’s Linda McCartney Retrospective is, without doubt, of a period, a certain, inimitable period, one which reconfigured popular culture completely. However, what is incredible about Linda McCartney is that she stood at the very heart of this period, right next to one of its main proprietors while being swamped in the rest from the very start, and was unaffected by it. Linda was strong enough to stand over the fire that was the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix (the a-list goes on) without burning up in its flame. This ability, and her focus on the human and the natural, is what allows this retrospective to be definitely of a period yet also so, so timeless.