Pairing photographs by Mary McCartney and her late mother Linda side by side, Gagosian Gallery’s latest show has everything a fan of the two would want: Unseen family photos, esoteric self-portraits, and lots of Paul McCartney. But the show is much more than that. Just ahead of Friday’s opening, McCartney expands on the exhibition’s concept, her personal aesthetic, and displaying family photos for the first time.
How did this show come about?
The gallery approached me about it and I liked the idea. I had thought of our work being exhibited together because I had seen the relevance in that we both have a very similar interest in what we wanted to photograph and a similar eye. So I could see the reasoning behind it, but I never really thought I would do it this soon in my career. Once it happened, it seemed very relevant and I got quite immersed in putting collections of our images together and seeing the connections between them. There’s kind of like a narrative between our photographs, which I really enjoyed piecing together.
What are some of your personal favorite groupings in the show?
It’s those connections, like there’s one set of pictures which are quite family where dad’s holding a carrot in his mouth and he’s feeding his horse the carrot and it’s almost like they’re kissing, and there’s a picture that mum took of me and dad where he’s kissing my cheek. Then that’s also hung alongside my dad with my brother James kissing - so, that I love for its intimacy and the kind of physicality of it, you can almost hear kissing in that section. And then in contrast to that there’s pictures I took of Kate Moss with a coat draped half across her and that connects to a picture mum took of the Rolling Stones where Mick Jagger’s coming in through a doorway with a curtain that’s draped in a similar shape, so I think that’s quite a strong pairing as well. And then there are some less obvious ones like one I’ve taken of Tracey Emin’s cat hiding behind a dress paired with a picture mom took of a pink water pistol and there’s a cat print on the shirt that the child is wearing so that connects the cats together. So, you know there’s a real variety in the show, I think.
Some of the pairings are so similar—in particular the two shadow portraits—are these purely coincidental?
They’re not taken to mimic her photographs but they’re the kind of thing like if she would see a reflection, she would take a photograph and if I see a reflection, it catches my eye and I want to take a photograph of it. So I think it’s just we have very similar interests in people and gaining people’s trust to get quite real and intimate pictures of them, which she did and that’s something that really interests me as well.
Did you mother ever give you any photography advice?
I didn’t get so many technical [tips], because I’m not such a technical, produced kind of photographer. It’s much more about observing and trying to capture moments; it’s more kind of just learning through observing her rather than her giving me advice. You kind of gain it through your own experience, which is part of the journey because in doing that, you learn about yourself and you learn about what you think of the world and other people and that’s part of the whole artistic process for me and why I find it interesting.
Do you have any favorite pictures she’s taken of you?
Probably the most famous one is of me as a baby in my dad’s jacket, which was on the cover of the McCartney album. I love that picture because the light is that kind of sunset, orangey light in Scotland at the end of the day. And I just love the story of it, how the reason I’m in his jacket is he zipped me up to go for a horse ride. It’s weird, because it’s such an intimate family photo but it’s also such a famous photo.
A lot of the images in this exhibition are being shown publicly for the first time. Were you reserved at all about sharing these private moments?
Yeah, I usually don’t show so many family pictures, but I thought with it being Mother Daughter, it felt very family-oriented and it didn’t feel like it would be complete unless I did include them. But they show my style and what I’m interested in as a photographer, so it’s not just there to be a personal family photo, it’s there because it has a narrative to it. You know, each picture is there for a reason.
When did you first become interested in photography?
I’ve always been interested in it, like when I left school my first job was doing picture research for a music book company so it meant that I could go and make appointments with photographers and look through their archives, so I always loved looking at other people’s pictures. But I think I was intimidated because I just thought it would be quite a daunting career path, and then I kind of just got very excited by it and did a photography course and saw it more as an adventure. I became quite collaborative working with other people and meeting people and I’ve kind of grown and got a real confidence and style in the way that I approach things now.
What was the first camera you remember using?
When I told my mum that I had decided to take photographs professionally, she gave me one of her cameras, which was a 35mm Leica, so I used that a lot to start out with. I still use that camera.
What about right now?
For digital, I use a Nikon 800 because it’s really good quality and I often shoot in low light and that’s very good for low light. And then I still use a little film Leica that I have in my bag so that I can take pictures if something captures my eye immediately. And then for my Instagram, I shoot on my iPhone 6 and I upload the pictures immediately. I look at what I’m actually photographing and then I decide the camera around that.
You have four kids of your own, do you think any of them will follow in your footsteps?
Oh yeah, I’d definitely be supportive. The thing is, they’ve all good a really good eye. We’ll see! I think they’re all interested in artistic areas, but I don’t think any of them have particularly decided on a career path yet, but if they decided that’s what they want to do, I would definitely sort of try and impart some of my experience over the years.
Linda McCartney | Mary McCartney: Mother Daughter is on view through December 19th at Gagosian Gallery, 976 Madison Avenue; 212.744.2313.