Linda McCartney had uncanny timing. None better than that June afternoon in 1966 when she showed up to a press reception for the Rolling Stones in New York City along the Hudson River.
Gaggles of photographers were there to snap pictures of the British bad boys. McCartney (Linda Eastman then) was still green with a camera and had stumbled across the invitation during clerical work at the magazine Town and Country.
When Mick, Keith and the boys headed out onto the river on a yacht, all of the press photographers were relegated to squeezing down their shutters from shore.
“For some reason, even though I had my camera hanging around my neck, I was ushered onto the boat by Betsy Doster who worked for the Stones management,” McCartney said in her book “The Sixties – Portrait of an Era,” “and I was allowed to be the lone photographer.”
McCartney captured intimate and unassuming stills that afternoon of one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll bands on the planet, a style she would come to be known for as she progressed into an acclaimed pop-culture photographer, not only during the 1960s but through the next few decades.
Today “Linda McCartney’s Sixties: Portrait of an Era” opens at the Huntsville Museum of Art. The exhibit is a 51-photo anthology of the visceral and private photos that McCartney amassed of many of the mammoths of rock music following that boat trip with the Stones.
As house photographer for the New York City music auditorium Fillmore East and a regularly commissioned photographer for then-fledgling magazine Rolling Stone, McCartney was behind the lens when Jimi Hendrix was hanging out in a studio in London, Janis Joplin had just taken a long pull from her cigarette, Grateful Dead members were clowning around at their communal Haight-Ashbury home in San Francisco, and mere feet from the Beatles at a concert in London when she met her eventual husband Paul McCartney.
Unfortunately, the photographer McCartney was plagued throughout her career with the misconception that because her maiden name was Eastman, she was an heir to the Eastman Kodak film company, which she wasn’t, and that she was allowed unmatched access to many of the musical icons of the time simply due to her last name.
“Most of them were taken before she met Paul McCartney,” Gabriele Abbott, the exhibit’s guest curator, said about McCartney’s photos from the 1960s.
And even though she ended up an arm’s length from many of her famous subjects, McCartney’s predominately black-and-white photos found something profound each moment she was there, proving that her photography was more than just being there.
“Linda’s idea of a photograph was that it captured the soul of a subject,” Abbott said. “They look worried, happy, sad – emotions in these pictures that are different than the shots that you might see in glamour magazines of the time.”
Abbott, who has overseen the exhibit since its debut in 1999 at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., has attempted to employ the same thoughtfulness into the show that McCartney put into her photos by attaching passages from McCartney’s autobiographical “The Sixties – Portrait of an Era” to each picture’s caption.
“It’s a bit like Linda McCartney is standing over their shoulder and saying, ‘See that picture of Aretha Franklin’ and tells the story about how it came to be,” Abbott said.
The exhibit is accompanied by a pair of video offerings surrounding McCartney’s career: a 49-minute BBC documentary “Linda McCartney: Behind the Lens” made six years before her death from breast cancer on April 17, 1998, and a nine-minute art film put together by Paul McCartney, generally known as “Grateful Dead,” that consolidates his former wife’s limited number of pictures with the 1960s jam band.
“It supplements the photographs,” Abbott said, “and gets you transported into that period like it was yesterday.”