In Focus: Linda McCartney
If it were not for photographer Linda McCartney (American, 1941-1998), the history of rock music would be missing a vital part of its visual record from the 1960s and ’70s. While she had only minimal formal training – once modestly referring to herself as a “punk photographer” – McCartney had a gift for putting performers at ease, then dissolving into the background to snap what are now considered classic photos of music superstars.
Linda McCartney was born Linda Louise Eastman to an upper-crust family from Westchester County, New York. Although some may have presumed it to be so, she was not related to the Eastman family of Eastman Kodak fame, and never made any suggestion that she was. Her father, Lee (Epstein) Eastman was a prominent entertainment lawyer in New York City. Her mother, Louise Lindner Eastman, was the daughter of Max J. Lindner, founder of the Lindner Company department store in Cleveland, Ohio.
After graduating from Scarsdale High School, Linda enrolled at Vermont College, where she earned an Associate of Arts degree. She then moved to Tucson, where she attended the University of Arizona. She started dabbling in equine and nature photography and became an avid hobbyist. Even as a student, she was known to use a high-quality Leica camera.
After her mother died tragically in a 1962 commercial airline crash, Linda moved back to New York and eventually went to work as a receptionist and editorial assistant for the society magazine Town & Country. During that time, she also went along on photo shoots with her then-boyfriend, photographer David Dalton. She closely observed the techniques he used in composition and lighting. Later, as she pursued her own career, Linda became known for her accomplished use of natural light when shooting her subjects.
Linda’s career path took a fortuitous turn in 1966 when an invitation arrived at Town & Country’s offices, inviting the publication to send a representative to a Rolling Stones record promotion party on a yacht. Linda jumped at the chance and ended up being the only photographer allowed on the yacht.
“I just kept clicking away with the camera,” Linda is quoted as saying in the Howard Sounes biography Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney, “and they enjoyed it and I enjoyed it, and suddenly I found that taking pictures was a great way to live and a great way to work.”
A few months after her Stones shoot, Linda was allowed backstage at Shea Stadium, where the Beatles performed. She also became an unofficial house photographer at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, where she took pictures of scores of artists, including Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Doors, the Who, Grace Slick, and many others. A portrait she took of Eric Clapton became the first by a woman photographer to be chosen for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. She developed a reputation as not only a fine photographer but also a music industry insider whom recording artists could trust.
In 1967, while on assignment in London, Linda Eastman met Paul McCartney at the Bag O’ Nails, a club frequented by musicians. They met again four days later at the launch party for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s house. In May of 1968, they reconnected at the US launch of Apple Records in Manhattan. Less than a year later, the couple married in a small civil ceremony in London. They would go on to live a normal, non-celebrity-oriented type of life on a farm, far from the insanity of Beatlemania. Throughout their 29 years of marriage, their primary consideration was always their four children: Heather, Mary, Stella and James.
While she also became a musician, playing keyboards and singing with McCartney’s post-Beatles group Wings, Linda had many other interests. She was a vegetarian and animal activist. She developed a successful line of vegetarian frozen foods that made her independently wealthy, and she both wrote and photographed the images for two bestselling vegetarian cookbooks.
Linda never lost her passion for photographing interesting people, including her own family. Her photographs have appeared on album covers and been exhibited in more than 50 galleries worldwide, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Her experiments with making sun prints – a 19th-century photo-developing process that dates to the early days of photography – earned Linda McCartney an invitation to have her work exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, England.
In 1992, a book of Linda’s photos from the earliest decade of her career – titled Linda McCartney’s Sixties: Portrait of an Era – was published by Bulfinch. The photos have been praised for their warmth and ability to capture the essence of each subject at a precise moment in time. A testament to Linda’s talent behind the lens and the respect she garnered from those she photographed, the book remains one of the definitive photo records of rock music legends from that period in time.