Double Exposure – A Day with Don McCullin and Linda McCartney

Written by Chris Clark
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Pulling up the collar of my mac, I head up and out of the underground car park, break into the fresh air and lookup. I’m greeted by the Liver Birds standing atop of the Liver building. As a Man Utd fan, this is a bit like being greeted by a puncture on a cold and frosty morning.

Still, rivalries aside, I haven’t chosen to spend a wet Wednesday in Liverpool, to argue over who is the greatest English club side. I’m here to take in a couple of photography exhibitions. Showing at the Tate on the Albert Dock is a major retrospective of Sir Don McCullins’ extensive body of work; the images span 60yrs, covering major international conflicts, the declining North, London’s homeless, and latterly his rural landscapes. Whilst over at the Walker Art Gallery, an exhibition of Linda McCartney's’ professional and personal photography is currently being held.

Double Exposure Linda McCartney 1

This isn’t my first visit to the Tate in Liverpool, that said it’s the first since the rise of COVID. Therefore, despite my best efforts, the prerequisite mask trumps any attempt at looking stylish. Presenting my ticket, the McCullin exhibition is on the 4th Floor, I’m informed, and should I require something lighter following, please feel free to visit the other exhibitions. At this point, I should say, whilst I’m familiar with some of McCullins work, I’m no aficionado. I’ve seen the generic images rolled out when his career is discussed, I now realise I’ve even seen some of his work without realising it was his. He was the photographer The Sunday Times assigned to shoot The Beatles for what became as their ‘Mad Day Out’.

Initially you’re greeted with ‘The Guv’nors’, his iconic, first published picture. As first hits go, it’s a million-seller, catapulting McCullin straight into the arms of the Observer newspaper, from there he became the Sunday Times defacto man for war. The image for those unaware is of an infamous 50’s street gang from McCullins old manor, Finsbury Park. The Gang pictured, framed by a bombed-out house are in their Sunday best. The same Gang would later be involved in a street fight during which a policeman was stabbed to death. McCullin's picture was thought to contain some of the suspects. McCullin walked the same streets as these young men growing up and by the grace of a camera could easily have become one of them.

Double Exposure Don McCullin 2

From Finchley Park bomb sites, McCullin takes us spiralling down through the depths of humanity, Vietnam, Congo, the birth of the Berlin wall, Northern Ireland, Biafra, into the bowels of the deindustrialised, dilapidated, north, arriving at the abandonment of London’s homeless. There’s no getting away from the subject matter, you’re surrounded by distress, desolation, and death. There is none of the glorification or chest-thumping patriotism of war in these images. The north is bleak, dank, damp. People, families, children stand in front of crumbling buildings, ignored, deserted, disregarded. The abandoned of north London sleep indistinguishable from the litter-strewn streets. Moving further into the exhibition, the images cut out light, the air becomes hard to breathe as you’re dragged into a monochromatic circle of hell devoid of morality, and forced to confront the horrific capability humans have to inflict pain on others. Even his rural Somerset landscapes offer little escape, they are eerily and uncannily battlefield-esque.

After the morning spent trudging knock-kneed through the 9 circles of hell, something much lighter is indeed required. After a coffee and short walk through the city centre, I arrived at the Walker Art Gallery and the Linda McCartney exhibition. If my morning had been spent searching for hope in a pit of despair, then the afternoon offered Fabtastic fun. Before becoming the wife of a Beatle, Linda Eastman was at the epicentre of New York’s 60’s music scene. As well as the day job for Town & Country magazine, her first major assignment shooting the Rolling Stones aboard a yacht; she also became unofficial house photographer for Bill Grahams Lower Eastside, church of rock n roll, the Fillmore East. It was here that she captured some of the greatest rock stars of any era, the roll call is a who’s who, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, Simon & Garfunkel, The Who, the Doors, the Animals, BB King, John Lennon and Neil Young, all shown at the Walker.

It was whilst on assignment in London, to shoot the swinging 60’s that the 1967 US Female Photographer of the year first met Paul McCartney at the ‘Bag ‘O’ Nails club. Married a few years later, Paul has often commented on how he ruined her career. From there in Linda would, despite her continued work, be forever known as a Beatle wife. And it is some of the more personal images on display that give you a sense of who Linda McCartney was. Whilst the portraits of rock gods and goddesses will always endure. From the images on display, it appears that for Linda it was family and nature that became her priorities. There’s a clear sense of happiness, contentment, and informality in those personal images, that resonates deep within us. As Don McCullin will attest the world can be a violent, unforgiving place. However, whilst Linda McCartney’s images may seem twee, in comparison her intimate pictures emphasise the deep cravings we all have, to be secure, to have family and ultimately what it feels like to have hope and be loved.

Don McCullin Exhibition at Tate Liverpool

Linda McCartney Exhibition at The Walker Art Gallery

Read 330 times Last modified on Saturday, 24 October 2020 11:01
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Chris Clark

Chris Clark

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