Home Events Leica, Linda, Mary, and Paul: spot the common denominator

Leica, Linda, Mary, and Paul: spot the common denominator


Here’s a word association test for you. What comes to mind when you hear the name McCartney? Is it Paul, Linda, or Stella? Perhaps Lennon, The Beatles, or Wings? Or a song, such as Blackbird, Yesterday, or Penny Lane? I wonder how many of you thought of photography. It turns out that this is as much a McCartney family talent as is music. Let’s take a trip down the long and winding road and get back to a day in the life of a McCartney photographer.

The first McCartney photographer?

The Wikipedia entry for Linda McCartney identifies her, first and foremost, as a photographer. If I had a Wikipedia page, I would view that descriptor as the ultimate accolade. Linda Eastman, as she was then, was indeed a photographer with a growing reputation for her photos of musical celebrities. This was before she met and married Paul and became both a member of his band, Wings, and eventually Lady McCartney.

Her photographs have been exhibited at more than fifty galleries across the globe, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She was the first female photographer to have her work featured on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. It was a photo of Eric Clapton at the height of his powers with Cream (May 11, 1968). She is best known for using Nikon gear, but in her early days, as an avid nature photographer, she shot with a Leica. Linda was a remarkable person, and not just a photographer but also a musician, a vegetarian cookbook author, and an animal rights activist.

A next-generation McCartney photographer

Her daughter, Mary, is also a McCartney photographer. She uses Leica cameras. Among her creative accomplishments is a documentary film, called ‘If These Walls Could Sing’, about the storied Abbey Road recording studio. Readers will be familiar with the eponymous Beatles Album and much-photographed pedestrian (zebra) crossing nearby. The film, available on Disney+, is excellent and well worth watching if you have access.

Like her mother, Mary has published a vegetarian cookbook and photographed musical celebrities. She has received numerous prestigious commissions, including a behind-the-scenes series on the Royal Ballet. She also photographed the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 on the occasion of her becoming the longest-reigning British monarch.

The least well-known McCartney photographer?

Although most of us think of him as a towering figure in the popular music scene for almost six decades, it turns out that Mary’s father Paul is also a keen photographer. You might already be aware that the National Portrait Gallery has recently reopened after an extensive renovation project with an exhibition of his photographs. The exhibit ‘Eyes of the Storm’ features photographs taken by Paul in the early days of the Beatles (1963-4). It seems he used a Pentax camera supplied by the company as part of a sponsorship deal. No Leica cameras in sight, as far as I can tell.

Not being able to attend the exhibition in person, a neighbour of mine, visiting London as part of a work assignment, kindly took the photos for this article.

The world’s most-photographed band

The first ‘single’ I ever owned was the Beatles’ double A-side: We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper. My mother bought it as a gift for my brother and me. My father was appalled. I was a young Grammar School student in 1970 when Paul McCartney left the Beatles. I neither saw The Beatles in performance nor met any of them in person. But having listened to their music from a young age, played their music in various bands, watched countless documentaries about them, and seen thousands of images of each member, I feel I knew them well.

The McCartney exhibition presents a unique perspective, though. It is an insider’s view of the band and the world that swirled around them; a world that they shaped through their music, their personalities, and their lifestyles. I wish I was in London to see it myself.

The exhibition runs until October 1st. If you visit the city over the next few months, perhaps you will have a chance to see it. Please share your impressions if you do.

All photographs were taken by Dianne Lookabaugh using an iPhone 12. Reproduced with permission.

Do you plan to visit the exhibition? Who was your favourite Beatle? What is your favourite Beatles song? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Mike McCartney, the artist formerly known as Mike McGear and Paul’s brother, is also a photographer.

  2. Thank you for your post. When I hear ‘celebrity photographer’, I always think of Dr. Johnson’s dancing bear. It’s good to hear that Mary and Paul are truly accomplished.

    • Hi Katy, thanks for your comment, and your reference to Dr. Johnson. I have not seen the work of either Mary or Paul McCartney in person, and so cannot offer an informed opinion, but from what I have read, they seem to be talented. Perhaps we will hear more opinions as Macfilos readers make their way to the National Portrait Gallery and take a look for themselves. All the best, Keith

  3. Being rich and “well connected” gives many people ways into these sort of “jobs”. That’s the common denominator here, and with many other rich/famous people’s offspring.

    • Oh, I dunno: I’ve known many photographers – I spent about a year and a half interviewing scores of them for the radio – and some were, or have been, well connected ..but many others, not.

      I wouldn’t say that David Bailey was rich or well connected when he began – he was an East End kid from the more impoverished side of London – but they’ve usually achieved through persistence and not taking ‘No’ for an answer. Constantly going to see picture editors on newspapers and magazines, and showing that they had talent. Talent and persistence ..that’s how many photographers got – and get – jobs ..and when their work’s shown on the printed page ..then they got more jobs.

      Patrick Lichfield was well connected (..he was the queen’s cousin..) and, through that, people wanted to hire him. He always felt that he had to prove himself, though. Bailey was no-one till he finally got his – unusual, different, in-yer-face – pictures into Vogue. Richard Young wasn’t well connected, and nor were the other East End lads ..but in the sixties almost anything was possible if you pushed hard enough, or got to see people who could employ you.

      Just like today.

      (P.S: I don’t think Brooklyn Beckham has actually achieved a career in photography ..has he?)

      • Have you seen the wonderful film where Fred Gandolfi refused to supply Patrick Litchfield with one of his wonderful cameras? He is pictured on the phone saying ” I don’t care who you are, you are not getting one of my cameras”. After the call he says sniffily to his younger brother ” Says he’s the Queen’s cousin, but I told him that he is not getting one of my cameras. I’d only do one for the Queen herself.”

        I have a photo of George Harrison (with the sticking out ears), aged about 10 or 11, on O’Connell Street in Dublin on a visit to meet his Irish Cousins. The photo was taken by a famous Ukrainian origin street photographer who used a Kiev camera. Both McCartney and Harrison had cousins in my younger brother’s year at our school and by that time the Beatles had become famous and so their cousins enjoyed a degree of reflected fame. I’m not sure where Lennon’s Irish relations came from, but he had some. Ringo was the only Beatle not to have Irish connections.

        When I went to see the V&A Photography Centre, soon after it had opened in 2018, I was amazed to see a group of women, presumably from an ‘art class’, sitting on chairs doing drawings of photos by Linda McCartney which were displayed in a glass case. I was taken aback as it was not what I expected to see in a section of a museum dedicated to photography.

        Mary McCartney is a very good photographer and a Leica Ambassador. I had thought about asking her to speak at our Leica Society International (LSI) Conference in Dublin last year, but I had seen her fellow Leica Ambassador Sarah Lee presenting her photos at The Leica Society (TLS) conference in Buxton some months earlier and I thought that she would be a very good speaker and presenter at our conference, which proved to be the case.

        What I have seen of Paul McCartney’s photos so far has created a good impression. They are very good photos and stand up well and are not over-reliant on the fame of the photographer or his subjects.


        • Hi William, I suspect, given that a significant percentage of her genes are of Irish lineage, that Mary McCartney would be very open to an invitation to address the photographic community in Dublin! The fact that there are distant McCartney second cousins in the neighborhood, as well as the Leica connection, can surely only add to the attraction! All the best, Keith

          • Keith, I am sure that you are right. The McCartney family are very aware of their Irish roots. Sarah Lee gave an outstanding presentation in Dublin which was mentioned, with a photograph, in a Macfilos article and was the highest rated ever at any of our conferences, over 90% of the people who rated it gave it 5 out of 5. Mary would be an ideal speaker at an LSI Conference in the UK or at a TLS Conference. I will send Mike a copy of the early 1950s George Harrison picture to forward to you. In it, he is walking beside his mother and his older brother Pete on O’Connell Street in Dublin. It is said to have been from 1950 when he was about 7, but he looks somewhat older than that to me. The photographer was Abraham Feldman aka Arthur Fields aka ‘The Man on the Bridge’ whose family had come to Ireland from Ukraine. He took photographs of people on O’Connell Street and O’Connell Bridge for almost 365 days a year for over 50 years. His life as a photographer has been the subject of two books and a TV documentary.


        • William,

          I went to see the Gandolfis years ago – to write an article for the magazine I worked(?) on – and they – Fred and Joe (or Tom, was it?) – just spent the day sitting in their earth-floor – like a blacksmith’s earth floor – lean-to at the back of their house in Peckham, just drinking tea all day.

          Once a month Fred would decide when they were going to make another camera – they kept them scarce and infrequent, to keep the price up! – and would then choose a plank of mahogany, or whatever – they had plenty of planks lying around on the floor – and would start cutting it up and planing it. Joe/Tom(?) did the metalwork ..the clasps to hold on the fittings.. and they sent away for individual bellows to be made, according to the size of camera which they were going to make ..and sent off to Rodenstock for the requisite lens.

          They confessed to not knowing, however, anything about photography! ..I think Fred had only taken a couple of photos in his life, just to test that a camera was working.. and they were, essentially, cabinet makers, and had been taught their trade by their father Loius ..the trade of building wooden cameras.

          The third brother (Arthur?) looked after the finances, but didn’t live in their house; he just popped round to visit now and again ..unless that was their nephew.

          I’d bought a lightweight wooden Gandolfi tripod from Brunnings in New Oxford Street a few years before (in ’74?) which served me for many years with an assortment of cameras, and I went to visit the brothers around 1979 or ‘980. I think Fred died just a few years afterwards (..we-ell, hardly beforehand, eh?)

          I did have some photos which I took of them in their ‘workshop’ ..but search me, officer, I’ve no idea where they are now. Perhaps in the archives of ‘Practical Photography’, if such an archive still exists..

          • Interesting, David. Is there any chance we could do a short article on Gandolfi? It sounds like something that would interest our readers around the world. Mike

          • There is a DVD video called ‘Gandolfi Family Business’ by Ken and David Griffiths which I bought some years ago. I recently saw a large number of them being sold as a job lot at a UK Auction. The film is marvellously evocative and really shows the eccentricities of the Gandolfi brothers. I suspect that with Fred you had to ask him the ‘right way’ before he would do anything for you.

            My good friend Tony Hurst, of Grays AP ads fame, who has been a professional photographer since 1959, has a 120 back for a Gandolfi made by Fred, but he had to visit the Gandolfi workshops personally in order to persuade Fred to do it. It would have been a far more engaging encounter than going to a ‘Leica boutique’, I suspect.

            In their long brown coats, the Gandolfis always remind me of characters from Monty Python, particularly the queue of men from the ‘gas board’.


    • Hi David, I concede it is hard to believe that celebrities don’t have a leg up when aspiring to photograph other celebrities. Whether their work stands up to critical scrutiny is another thing. I suspect the readers of Macfilos would not pull any punches when it comes to evaluating the quality of work from those celebrity photographers. It can be a tough crowd! Thanks for commenting. Cheers, Keith

  4. I am desperate to return to the National Portrait Gallery, one of my favourite places in what is my favourite city. The last 3 years have been purgatory while the rehang has been going on. I don’t plan to see the Beatles exhibition particularly. As you may guess, I’m more of a Rolling Stones man myself. My favourite Beatles song? It’s Hey Jude, but only by the wonderful Wilson Pickett.

    • Hi Keith, or should I say Keef. 😉 I won’t dispute the musical merits of The Stones. They certainly have The Beatles beat with regard to longevity! The National Portrait Gallery was closed when I visited London just over a year ago. I was bitterly disappointed.

      I have a photos of B&W photos of Richards and Jagger by Norman Seeff that were exhibited at the Museum of Photographic Art here in San Diego. Iconic! Thanks for commenting! Cheers, Keith

  5. .
    Good to see, Keith, that you DIDN’T mention the old chestnut that Linda was descended from George Eastman of Kodak fame. Many people imagined it to be true, because of her photography ..but it was just co-incidence.

    I’ll probably pop along on Wednesday or Thursday to see Paul’s photos.

    • Hi David, I look forward to your critical appraisal of Paul’s photographic prowess when you have seen his photographs in person. I am sure you will be generous with your praise, knowing what an easy-going soul you are! 😉

      • Hi Keith..

        Well, the Gallery itself has certainly been opened out ..rather than the ‘narrow enclosure’ it used to seem to be. However, that gives the impression of a lack of focus; nothing ‘leading you in’, but now more like a large stone barn to amble around in.

        It’s now dominated – or at least is today – by a huge (20 foot plus) hanging print of a picture of Oscar Wilde, whom I thought was Irish, born in Dublin, and not a British national at all. But perhaps that’s irrelevant. Dunno.

        Paul’s photos were in a set of small rooms and alcoves; mainly black and white, but a chunk of colour photos, too, in the end gallery.

        I’d say they were pretty good (..better than Dennis Hopper’s photos, anyway!..) ..or at least the ones on display are. What he wants to show is front and centre in each photo, in – mainly – sharp focus (..some are a little blurred through using a slow shutter speed indoors..) and generally with suitably non-intrusive out-of-focus backgrounds, and they all look as if taken with a 50mm lens – maybe that’s all he had! – at about f1.4 or f2. It looks like he knew what he was doing!

        The colour photos are a little softer – dreamier? – but that’s probably down the film of those days and the processing as much as the Pentax lens.

        I’ve put two pics at https://www.edituk.com/McCartney_photos.html ..the top one’s my photo of a postcard which I bought there, and is pretty representative of the colour pics, and the lower photo is of the covers of a couple of books on display, showing the ‘punchiness’ of his b&w shots ..in this case of a couple of news cameramen shooting Paul.

        Some of his b&w pics are framed by pointing the camera through some out-of-focus device like a bed frame, or a fence, or some such. He seems to have had a really good eye, as there’s nothing intrusive in almost all shots; nothing to distract from who or what he was capturing ..and did successfully capture.. on the fly. There’s very little that’s posed, except for a few shots in colour (see the postcard photo linked above) and a few in b&w of George’s mum and – separately – sister, and of Cynthia.

        They really are accomplished off-the-cuff informal photos ..but most strikingly uncluttered ..even outdoors he’s used an almost wide-open lens ..so the film must have been pretty slow; 100 ASA I’d guess. I saw only one display of a blown-up contact sheet: I should have looked more closely at the edges to see what speed the film was.

        I much prefer these simple, happy photos to, for example, Martin Parr’s rather sneering pics of everyday people’s lives.

        The photos are really of interest, of course, because they’re Paul McCartney’s (..some dark background ‘moody’ shots of Jane Asher in a beam or two of light..) but they’re quite Jane Bown-ish ..but then the other Beatles and Brian Epstein and the entourage would have been quite relaxed about Paul clicking away beside them.

        Several are of the boys on TV shows, shot in the studio(s), so are ‘behind the scenes’ shots, and some must have been taken with a self-timer, as Paul’s in the picture with the other Beatles ..and in focus, too.

        So they’re of interest because they’re shots of the Beatles & Co by a Beatle, but even if they were of some other band, or of just a bunch of unknowns, they do show real informal technique, an ability to focus quickly and accurately, to capture fleeting expressions, and to be unselfconscious and unpretentious. They made me smile! They evoke a little bit of a feeling of M. Lartigue.

        Entrance is a bit pricey (..the rest of the National Portrait Gallery displays are free..) but I got a discount for having a National Art Pass card.

        It took half an hour to go around, but I could easily have lingered longer and gone all around again. I came out feeling nostalgic, but happy to have seen some upbeat pictures taken with talent and joy.

  6. Thanks for this article. I was in England and had hoped to see the exhibition on the opening day, which happened to be the day before I flew home to Chicago. A degree of uncertainty meant I missed booking a ticket and slot time for the day, so will either have to come back before October 1st or hope the exhibition comes to Chicago.

    • I too am unlikely to make it before Oct 1st. If they take it on the road, perhaps it will come to SoCal after Chicago! I take it you have some decent art museums in Chicago… 😉 Cheers! Keith


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