Wednesday 31 July 2013

REVIEW: Linda McCartney at Kunst Haus Wien

Review by Ernie Sutton and Terry Bloxham

6 June 2013 to 6 October 2013 KUNST HAUS WIEN

The first real major retrospective of Linda’s photographic work has gone on exhibition in Vienna, in the magnificent Kunst Haus Wien.

The Kunst Haus Wien was designed by the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) and two floors of the gallery are devoted to his work. Hundertwasser was unique – a painter, designer and architect, he believed that life was not meant to be lived in bland square boxes. His work is characterised by bright colours and no straight lines. It’s worth going to the Kunst Haus just to see and, most importantly, experience his work – once experienced, it is not easily forgotten!

Linda McCartney’s Photography retrospective is located on the top two floors of the museum.
Linda studied at the University of Arizona where she first became interested in photography. Her influences include the photographers Walker Evans (1903-1975) and Paul Strand (1890-1976), both of whom specialised in personal, close observation work; something that Linda herself excelled in.

The exhibition is split into 5 sections.

Section one: ‘The Light Comes From Within’
“My photography is me.”

Here the exhibition focuses on Linda’s special approach to photographs, with its cultural elements of trust and understanding.
One of the highlights is  the C-Type (chromogenic) print (of which there are many in this exhibition) entitled ‘My Love’ of Paul’s face viewed through the rear view mirror, taken by Linda from the back seat. The picture was taken somewhere in London (along the no. 4 bus route) and captures the red sky above in a fascinating, evocative way. There is also a wonderful photo of horses in the snow taken in 1986, which captures two horses at play and two in a ‘contemplative mood’. Linda caught that magical moment through her lens, making this one of the best shots from this section.

Section two: ‘The ‘Chronicler of the 60s’
“A special approach to photographic portraiture with central elements of trust and understanding.”

Here we have pictures of Jimi Hendrix, Simon and Garfunkel and the Rolling Stones.
Linda was working as a receptionist at Town and Country Magazine when an invitation came in to attend a promotion party on the Sea Panther in 1966 for the Rolling Stones new album.
Linda grabbed the opportunity and took some great shots which are exhibited here. Rolling Stone Magazine published her picture of Eric Clapton on 11 May 1968 on their front cover, making Linda the first woman photographer to achieve this feat.
Her subsequent pictures of such artists as The Yardbirds, Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Twiggy, Judy Collins, and, of course, The Beatles, suddenly brought Linda to the public eye.
There is a video in the exhibition of The Grateful Dead featuring Linda’s pictures which encapsulates the spirit of the 60s.
Included in this section are fantastic photos of Linda taken by Paul McCartney, Graham Nash and Jim Morrison.

The majority of her black and white photographs in this section are bromide print.

Section three: ‘Family Life’
“It was a life which fluctuated between the poles of extreme publicity and retreats into privacy.”

Linda’s intimacy with both her family and with her camera produced fabulous, natural shots of the McCartney clan, their animals and their friends. There is a wonderful shot of Denny Laine with a horse, taken in Scotland in 1977. A selection of 30 small Polaroids is included with a very interesting image of John Lennon in 1974 when the Maccas met up with John and May Pang in Los Angeles and recorded the session that became the bootleg “A Toot and a Snore in ‘74”, allegedly the last ever meeting between John and Paul.
We also have a lovely picture of son James looking through an eye glass, plus a photo from 1971 of Paul in Liverpool behind which Camerons Whitbred Pale Ale is displayed.  There is a great shot from 1979 taken of the heads of local Caribbean children over which are imposed images of Paul and Stella, which shows Linda’s clever manipulation of the photographic image.
Linda experimented with old photographic processes as well and some of her sun prints are displayed in this section.

Section four: ‘Photography as social commentary’
“Her empathy extended to all people of all social strata as well as to animals, and she took a stand on issues concerning the protection of animals and the environment.”

The influences of Walker Evans and of Henri Cartier-Bresson are particularly strong in this section.
Linda’s animal rights concerns are clear with photographs of animal carcasses hanging in butcher shops. One image that stands out is that of hares hanging down from a rack with plastic bags over their heads.  What is most striking is that these images are of familiar scenes, the barbarity of which are revealed in Linda’s photography.

Section five: “Later Works”
The later portraits of her husband and grown up children radiate sureness of style and an immense sense of peace.” “The woman who often would have liked to be unrecognised, scrutinised her own image at various times of her life and presented this to the beholder.”

The best photo here is one showing Paul reflected in a mirror holding a camera but which was taken by Linda. Flanking the mirror are two balloons with the markings “Listen to this Balloon” and “Happy Xmas Apple R5970” (note the UK Catalogue number). Was this a meeting between John and Paul in New York City in 1974, or is it Paul parodying John’s “Listen to this Button” ‘Walls & Bridges’ promo campaign?

A sixth section would have been welcome which explained in detail the different photographic techniques and processes Linda used but all in all this is such a great exhibition and one you must see.

For more information on this fabulous exhibition, including images of some of Linda's iconic photographs, click HERE!

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