ELLE talks family love with Mary McCartney

To celebrate the photographer's ‘Mother Daughter’ exhibition in New York


ELLE's New York Editor Scarlett Curtis talks to Mary McCartney.


Mary and Stella, West Berlin, 1976.
Photocredit: © 1976 Paul McCartney/Photographer: Linda McCartney


Moving to New York, the idea of the vast quantities of incredible art just a subway ride away was one of the things that first drew me to the city. But once you arrive and life takes over it can often feel hard to appreciate and take time for the beauty and wonder that lies just inside the various glamorous art galleries littering the city. Overwhelmed with choice, overcome with the intensity and beauty of it all and often just a little bit too lazy to jump on the train.


In an attempt to push my lethargy aside and open my brain and heart to the possibility of beauty in a city I was starting to think might just consist of rat’s and cold pizza, my mother invited me to see an exhibition of Mary Mccartney’s photography at the Gagosian gallery. When we arrived I was freezing cold, a little bit rained on and jealous that my mum had actually remembered to bring a scarf. The feeling of walking around an art exhibition that you connect with is one of the closest things to the child-like wonder of stepping into Disneyland that I’ve felt since I hit my twenties. The show, Mother Daughter, is a stunning, intimate collection of photographs taken by Mary and her mother Linda over the courses of their lives. Opening with an image of a baby Mary taken by her mother placed next to an astoundingly resonant photograph of Mary’s son, this collection of photos moved me in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Despite many attempts at a teenage rebellion and to establish a solid group of friends my own age since coming to university, my family remain far and away the most important part of my life and my best friends. Seeing an entire exhibition that was dedicated to this exact kind of love justified and comforted me in a way I didn’t know I needed. Art and photography have always been able to capture love in a way unlike much else but so often this is focused on romantic love or painful love. Mary has an ability to take those moments between parents and children, between siblings - that particular kind of love that so often seem so indescribable - and express it in a way that is so true and so pure, so unlike anything else. The juxtaposition of her photos against Linda’s brings new levels to the exquisite emotion inherent in her work but it is the purity and beauty in her art that made me want to go home and cuddle my brothers until they got bored and told me to go away.


I was lucky enough to get to interview Mary about her show, and her answers made me want to go back and see the whole thing again. If you’re in New York or anywhere S: nearby, all I can say is this; face the cold, bring a scarf, and let yourself fall, just a little bit, into the beauty and love that inhabits Mary’s world.

Scarlett: The show felt like you were letting the audience have a peek inside your family photo album.

Mary: Over the years photography has moved from a way of documenting things to progress into an art form that allows photographers to delve deeper into more emotional and philosophical situations. For me any image I show in an exhibition or include in a limited edition portfolio has been considered  to make sure I feel there is a real message or emotion to convey to my viewer. For instance, the photograph of my mother and sister holding each other speaks of closeness, family and a sense of hope. 

S: Did you expect you would find such a rich connection between you photos and your mothers?

M: We always talked about photography together and I loved asking her about her early career, how Jimi Hendrix would phone her and ask her to visit the studio to take photos. She would give me advice and because of those conversations I came to realise we had a lot in common in our styles and in our character. Both of us love to be around people and to photograph different aspects of life. For me I could go from shooting Kate Moss then to photograph the behind the scenes of an acrobat couple as they warm up (working past their injuries) to perform a dance (her wearing high heals!) on a tight rope. Both of of us had a passion for observing life, waiting for something interesting to catch our eye. 

S: You have such a complicated, talented and famous family name but it really felt like this exhibition was a true celebration of your family and your place within it. Have you always felt this comfortable embracing your name and your parents success? 

M: Yes. In the past I have avoided showing more family moments, but when I was invited to show at the Gagosian as a mother/daughter show it didn’t seem complete without them. So this exhibition is a collection of images of mine and my mothers that I feel compliment each other. Each image has a reason for being in the show. For instance, the set of photographs of beds, my image of Tracey Emin’s bed and mum’s side of the bed connects to mums image of family in bed, show the privacy of beds and the trust to let someone into your bedroom. 

S: I, like so many people my age, take more photos today of my daily life, my family and my friends than any generation before us thanks to technology and our obsession with capturing every moment. How would you recommend making the transition from just snapping away on your iPhone to truly appreciating photography?

M: I think my advice would be to slow down and observe. See what it is you really want to capture. I don’t have a problem with taking photos on phones as they are pretty good quality now. But if you are really interested in creating more artistic images, it would be worth exploring a proper camera at some point!

S: What does it mean to have your work displayed in the centre of Manhattan? Did you get a very different reaction from an American audience?

M: This is the first time Mother Daughter has been shown anywhere in the world, I was set on having a feeling of intimacy about the show, to make it feel special.  With that in mind, I have purposely kept the limited edition photographs to small editions, only 6 prints for each photograph. As my mum was a New Yorker, it seems fitting that the exhibition starts its journey in Manhattan. The images were very much choosen with the two rooms at the Gagosian, Madison Avenue in mind. I wanted the viewer to come into the space and to see our photographs hanging side by side and then wander around the space lost in the narrative and different stories between our relationship. 

Quickfire Q&A with Mary McCartney

What’s your favourite photograph in the exhibition that you took?

Mum holding the frog.

What’s your favourite photograph in the exhibition that your mother took?

Her horse in the daisy field

Do you have a favourite emoji and if so what is it?

The peace sign

England or America?


Kate or Cara?

Kate, as I know her better, but both have a brilliant sparky talent that I find infectious.

Twiggy or Shrimpton?


Sad or happy art?  

We need both.


Linda McCartney and Mary McCartney, Mother Daughter, November 20 - December 19, 2015

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