(Credit: © Paul McCartney / Photographer: Linda McCartney).
Linda by Paul. London, 1968
The land of majestic saguaros attracts many visitors from across the pond each year. The diverse and prickly plant species that stand tall, like guardians that watch over the Sonoran Desert that is home to many resilient creatures. Even the kaleidoscope-colored sunsets are second to none. Many who leave, inevitably get back to where they once belonged.
Perhaps these are just a few reasons why Linda McCartney (nee Eastman) felt a kinship to Tucson.
UA’s Center for Creative Photography is hosting the North American premiere of, “The Linda McCartney Retrospective,” from Saturday, Feb. 25, to Saturday, Aug. 5.
It celebrates McCartney’s barrier-breaking career that spanned across three decades.
“We will have not only the exhibition at the CCP, but also an incredible range of campus and community events and opportunities for engagement,” said Andrew Schulz, dean of the College of Fine Arts.
The exhibition, which will include about 200 pieces, will be divided into three broad groupings including “Artists,” “Family” and “Photographic Exploration.” McCartney’s work opens avenues for investigation and exploration, Schulz said.
Roots in Tucson
Born and raised in New York state, McCartney was an UA art history student. Her formal photography training extended to just two lessons at a night school.
Once she married Paul McCartney, the two bought land here in Tucson, a ranch in the Tanque Verde area, near the Rincon Mountains.
“In addition to exposing the public to Linda McCartney’s iconic work, this collection will allow our students and faculty throughout the university to learn from her innovative creative process and devotion to important societal issues,” said UA president Robert C. Robbins in a statement.
“The McCartney exhibit is allowing us to really showcase the other extraordinary pieces of the CCP,” added Staci Santa, interim director of the Center for Creative Photography. “A lot of people don’t know that we have a robust archives collection and the breadth of work we have under that little roof, millions of objects and for us to be able to showcase that in a meaningful way while we’re engaging the music scene in Tucson.”
The Center for Creative Photography houses the work of more than 2,200 photographers including co-founder Ansel Adams, David Hume Kennerly, Lola Alvarez Bravo and W. Eugene Smith and houses close to 9 million objects.
Rebecca Senf, chief curator of the Center for Creative Photography, said it has an extensive history with the McCartney family in addition to their long-standing relationship to Tucson.
“I think the landscape here meant a tremendous amount to her and she’s a horsewoman so being in Tucson allowed them to keep horses,” Senf said.
A McCartney archive is in London where Paul and their children live. Senf and Megan Jackson Fox, associate curator of the Center for Creative Photography, visited the archive to see primary source documents and talk with the archivist Sarah Brown about McCartney’s work.
“Being in the archive and working with the archivist allowed us to do a kind of research that augmented the retrospective as it was seen in other locations,” Senf said.
In terms of Tucson, Senf said Fox is doing a show about McCartney’s teacher, Hazel Larsen Archer, which expands the discussion about McCartney’s photographic education as it happened in Tucson.
Archer was an American female photographer during the 20th century, who attended and taught at Black Mountain College in Black Mountain, North Carolina. It was a hub for intermedia, cross-medium avant-garde work in the United States for dance or photography for painters, musicians and architects.
The “vibrant community” was known for matriculating influential individuals of the latter half of the twentieth century including Willem de Kooning, whose work “Woman-Ochre”’ was recently returned to the UA’s Museum of Art after being stolen in 1985.
In Tucson, Archer worked at Pima Community College and the Tucson Art Center, later known as the Tucson Museum of Art. She also helped found other colleges as a photographer, photo educator and art educator.
“She brought all of that knowledge, energy and dynamism with her,” Fox said. “That was really the foundation for Linda McCartney and her education in photography.”
Senf said the Center for Creative Photography wanted to explore McCartney’s work further and look at how she had experimented in photography through her process and practice by analyzing the results she had obtained through various experimentations.
(Photo Courtesy of UA Center for Creative Photography)
Jimi Hendrix. London, 1967, © Paul McCartney / Photographer: Linda McCartney.
Curating the exhibit
To curate the exhibit, Fox said, took intensive research. From the McCartney archives to the Archer estate in Tucson. Fox said she worked closely with it and Archer’s daughter.
“We have a really long runway for creating these exhibitions, they can be three to five years if not more,” Fox said.
Additionally, about 50 undergraduate students from the college of humanities are working with the Center for Creative Photography, learning from the Archer images, materials from the McCartney exhibit and El Pueblo Neighborhood Center and building community projects.
“We’ll have the Hazel Larsen Archer exhibition open with the McCartney exhibition and then in May we will put the students’ projects in the center of that exhibition,” Fox said. “So, you have this intergenerational conversation happening.”
As a photo historian, Senf said that one of the center’s strengths is moving from archive to exhibition and using materials so audiences can benefit from the wealth of an archive.
“I think that it was really fun writing the labels of the musicians’ section because I was imagining various audience members seeing pictures of Neil Young, Jim Morrison or Bob Dylan from the time that they were young and listening to these musicians as young people,” Senf said.
The Center for Creative Photography has been working with students from the Honors College, building audio tour guides for the exhibition. “Sir Paul McCartney has even offered to respond to any of their questions that they have,” Fox said.
McCartney’s photographs include some of the greatest artists and cultural icons of all time such as Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix and, of course, The Beatles.
“These are people who changed the course of American culture and Western culture and so it was really interesting to think about all of that and how to provide the supporting information that would allow different audiences to deeply appreciate the photographs that were there,” Senf said.
The more profound images include intimate family photographs of Paul, Linda and their children. Of Linda McCartney’s level of fame and visibility, Senf said that she displays a level of joy of family life the way anyone else might or playfulness between two romantic partners.
“I think she did a really exceptional job of making people comfortable in the presence of the camera so that you see people in a candid way,” Senf said. “The way she helped people feel at ease and able to be more themselves.”
McCartney mostly worked with a 35-millimeter handheld camera, which Senf said suits her style and her approach, allowing her to be more spontaneous and less obtrusive.
The exhibition will also include a group of about 60 Polaroids, or facsimiles of Polaroids because Polaroids fade really quickly when exposed to light. This feature of the exhibition can convey to the audience McCartney’s spontaneity and snapshots of casual moments.
“If you think about Linda McCartney as the centerpiece of the project, then everything is kind of coming from and inspired by her right as a photographer, as a person as an activist,” Fox said.
Calling the exhibition the heartbeat of McCartney’s photography, Fox said that there will be an accompanying lecture series starting on opening day.
“Women’s rights were an important part of her activism and her interests and so we’re going to have two photographers who are also entrepreneurs who are going to come and speak about their projects, on women in photography and what they’re doing to help amplify women in photography and to help steward their careers inside of the larger photographic field,” Fox said.
McCartney who was also a food and animal activist was well known for her vegetarian lifestyle. Fox said that the Center for Creative Photography will have a photographer and artist who works at the intersection of food studies talk about her work inspired by indigenous foods.
In addition to the lecture series, the Center for Creative Photography is planning pop-up community tables at the Children’s Museum, farmers markets and the Phoenix Art Museum to talk about sustainability and food issues, food equity in relation to photography.
“That’s another way for us to build bridges from the institution to your everyday world and I think that’s really important that we break the four walls of a gallery so that we are very open,” Fox said.
The Center for Creative Photography will also have weekly live performances from musicians. “That also harks back to Linda for her love of music and her relationship to music over the context of her life,” Fox said. “We’re trying to create doorways for every interest.”
Fox said that she hopes museum visitors get to know McCartney as an amazing photographer, but also as someone who had a variety of interests.
“You bring all of that life into an image and into a practice,” Fox said. “I hope we as an institution continue to do this for the photographers that we exhibit, that we show this entirety of a person and what that means to the photographs themselves.”