Capturing the world’s most inaccessible women, in their most intimate state, is Mary McCartney’s talent. Here she shares the stories of her portraits...
How do you convince Tracey Emin to dress as Frida Kahlo? Or persuade Beth Ditto to pose in nothing but a strategically placed bed sheet? Answer: you don’t need to if your name is Mary McCartney. Growing up in a hub of creativity, it’s little wonder that Paul and Linda’s eldest daughter has become one of Britain’s most celebrated photographers.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Mary, 43, is renowned for her candid perspectives and has shot a plethora of cultural icons from the former Prime Minister Tony Blair (whom she snapped alongside wife Cherie when they introduced baby Leo to the world) to style icons including Kate Moss and Kate Hudson. Stylist’s photography director Tom Gormer watched her in action as she photographed actress Rose Byrne for a recent cover.
“Having worked with Mary, I can completely understand how she gets those candid shots,” says Tom. “For someone with such heritage, you might expect a big presence, but she’s so unassuming and friendly that she puts everyone at ease.”
This Saturday a new exhibition of her large-scale images entitled Developing: Photographs By Mary McCartney will open at The Lowry in Salford Quays, Greater Manchester (until 9 June; thelowry.com). Ahead of the launch, Stylist caught up with her to talk about the charming stories behind some of her most iconic photographs.
ABOVE: Tracey Emin as Frida Kahlo, Tate magazine, 2000
Mary says: “I’d never met Tracey Emin but I had an idea of her in bed dressed as Frida Kahlo because both artists are known for their work with beds. I was nervous Tracey wouldn’t go for it but she said yes immediately. When Tracey slipped into those clothes she was transformed, she didn’t even talk like Tracey anymore. She told me she connected with the unibrow because she’d had the beginnings of one”
ABOVE: Beth Ditto, for Harper’s Bazaar, 2007
“Beth had come straight off the Eurostar from a gig in Paris the night before so she was knackered and bleary-eyed. But when Dusty Springfield’s Son Of A Preacher Man came on the radio she started singing along. She has an amazing voice. It was her idea to wear the Brigitte Bardot-style wig and that’s why she’s one of my favourite people to shoot – I love her energy and body confidence.”
ABOVE: Madonna & Tracey Emin at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2008
“I was asked to take pictures backstage at the Hall Of Fame the year that Madonna was inducted and I was just wandering around the back of the venue when I came across Tracey and Madonna having a glass of champagne and a catch up, so I asked them to pose for a quick picture. It was all very spontaneous. I’d previously shot Tracey as Frida but I’d never photographed Madonna before. They were both in a really good mood and it was a nice fun moment.”
ABOVE: Helen Mirren, outtake for charity commission, 1998
“This has a special place in my heart because it was my first commissioned portrait. It was daunting that it was Helen Mirren but I did what I always do when I’m nervous: pretend to know what you’re doing and don’t show any signs of weakness! Helen wasn’t styled for this, these are her own clothes and jewellery. Sometimes actors put on a persona in front of the camera but with this shot you feel like you’re getting the real Helen Mirren.”
ABOVE: Chrissie Hynde at home, outtake for album project, 2001
“Chrissie is a friend of the family and I’d shot her before but, here, I’d been taking some PR photographs for album artwork at her house. This is one of the more spontaneous pictures taken in between shots – we were chatting at the same time. That’s why she looks like she’s about to ask a question. I only came across the image because I was looking back through my archives recently, so I hadn’t published or printed it. Chrissie loves her cats. I think you can see that she’s more relaxed having her pet with her.”
ABOVE: Vivienne Westwood, 2008
“I was taking pictures of my favourite women for an event at the Natural History Museum and I wanted to include Vivienne. She’s a strong woman with strong beliefs. This was taken at her studio and I like that it’s a quiet picture which belies the chaos around us. Next door her team was producing a collection but you’d never guess because the shot is so intimate.”
Image credit: Mary McCartney