Linda McCartney: Behind the Lens – An Introduction

Linda McCartney was a pioneer, in photography, food and animal rights. She of course became world famous when she got together with musician Paul McCartney but she was already highly successful in her own right working as the photographer at Fillmore East, New York’s main rock music venue, and for the newly born chronicle of the counter culture, Rolling Stone. After she and Paul were married, she achieved extraordinary success, revolutionising understanding of vegetarian food. This was at a time when to be a vegetarian was to be considered eccentric at best; the first vegetarian restaurant in central London gloried in the name of Cranks.

She pursued her mission with a laid back grace. Her main motive was her love of animals and concern for their welfare. I first met her in 1985 when we went to the McCartneys’ farm to film Paul for an Arena about Buddy Holly. Linda came to the set to say hello to the crew. She was warm and friendly and told us about the beautiful Appaloosa horses she bred. The McCartneys famously had a flock of sheep on their farm, they were not for the market, they were there for themselves – these were sheep that could safely graze. This humanity and kindness defines her photography. Her pictures of the rock musicians of the late 60s are cool and detached but empathetic. She was a player in a musical revolution without precedent, her subjects were no longer pop stars singing about young love, these were highly achieved musicians who were writing and singing about anything – Vietnam, angst, politics, the surreal, the banal with names such as Cream, Love, Traffic, the Jefferson Airplane and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

There was no rule book – the subjects of Linda’s photographs included some of the most volatile and unpredictable individuals imaginable. They didn’t break rules, they obliterated them. Linda thrived in this new world. Invariably she captured her subjects in a mood quite different from the psychedelic, confrontational image they invariably projected, neither posing or reacting, unperturbed by her presence. The result is an intimate, human record of the musical rebels and rascals of the time.

Linda didn’t make a big thing about being Jewish, the combination of her name Eastman and her photography led to the belief that she was part of the Eastman Kodak empire. In fact her father, Lee Eastman was a highly successful New York lawyer. He’d changed his name from Epstein, by coincidence the same name as that of The Beatles’ legendary manager, Brian Epstein. They were both Jewish, otherwise the two Epsteins’ backgrounds could not have been more different. Linda moved effortlessly from one world to the other. Like everything else, she wore her privileged upbringing lightly. She was a joy and her early death robbed us all of a truly brave, humane and original person. It’s an honour to have been able to commission Nicholas Claxton’s film for Arena and to have it as a record of Linda’s life and work.

Anthony Wall – Series Film Curator and Executive Producer, Arena at Jewish Book Week