Mary McCartney’s life in photographs started when she was just an infant. That baby on the cover of Paul McCartney’s first eponymous solo record, released in 1970, is her, peeking out at the camera from inside the sheepskin coat of her famous father and Beatles co-founder. The photographer was her mother, Linda Eastman McCartney, who early on nurtured Mary, the first-born child of her union with the former Beatle, to share her love and passion for photography.
Today an established artist in her own right, Mary McCartney has shot intimate portraits of some of the celebrities who have long orbited around the family of a Beatle: Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, Elvis Costello, Debbie Harry, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band artist Peter Blake, Marianne Faithfull and Vanessa Redrave to name a few.
These portraits and others of contemporary celebrities such as Madonna, Kate Moss and Gwyneth Paltrow comprise the bulk of her 2010 book, Mary McCartney: From Where I Stand, now the focus of an exhibition opening at Izzy Gallery in Toronto next week. The range of black-and-white and colour images include behind-the-scenes portraits of dancers from the Royal Ballet and of her fashion designer sister Stella McCartney’s fashion shows. Mary McCartney discloses the point of view of an insider, allowing her viewers open access to the rarefied world of fame.
But as she tells The Globe and Mail in a conversation touching on growing up on the road touring with her parents’ rock band Wings and her life as a mother of four sons, making that access look easy is all part of the art.
Let’s start by talking about creativity. Tell us about your process.
I think my process is thinking about the end images so I start with an atmosphere of a photograph that I want to get, then work back from there to attain that. I have an image in mind. For instance, when I did the ballet project, Off Pointe, with the Royal Ballet, an image came into my mind of a ballet dancer tending to her feet in her bathroom at the end of a really long evening of performance. And from there I worked back, and contacted the Royal Ballet and met the dancers. But it all came from an initial mental image.
You and I share a fascination with the backstage world of the ballet dancer. Why have you chosen to portray ballet dancers far from the footlights?
That’s a good question. I chose the ballet because I think it’s a private, very personal, almost all-consuming world. It’s quite intense. I’m not so physical. I’m more visual, and I would never be able to have the endurance and lifestyle that a ballet dancer has, so I think it’s so far from the stamina that I think I have myself. So, I find it fascinating that they can perform the way they can do, first of all. Then I met a ballet dancer years ago once. We were at a party in Soho and we were drinking together, and she was smoking, and a friend of mine was like, ‘You don’t smoke; you’re a ballet dancer,’ and from that, it kind of intrigued me more, and then meeting the dancers. They socialize together; they have relationships together and there’s like a whole other world of intensity and from that I was really quite intrigued about what goes on behind the scenes.
And so I met some of the dancers, and they kind of let me into that world. So I think partly because I found it so intriguing because it was a whole lifestyle I didn’t know about, and secondly, it was to do with sort of gaining that trust, to be allowed into that world to shadow the dancers, and from there I really wanted to do it away from the stage and the rehearsal rooms as much as possible, mainly because that part has been already been captured really well, and I was more interested in their lives and relationships and what goes on away from the rehearsal room.
You have one of the dancers poised over a pool table.
Yes. That was fun. That was when they had done a performance and we all went out to dinner and a party and from there we went back to someone’s apartment and they ended up playing pool. But I just love the fact that you can tell she’s a ballet dancer by the way she’s draping herself across the table. It’s very much about their lifestyle. There’s another one where I stayed over with them at one of their homes, and in the morning one of the ballet dancers, her name is Sian [Murphy], wanted to make a cup of tea, and she’s standing with her feet in a ballet dancer’s position, but, you know, she’s just got her underwear on, and a towel wrapped around her head because she’s just washed her hair, and you can just tell she’s a ballet dancer even when she’s making a cup of tea.