As her new exhibition opens in France, the British photographer explains why she’s compelled to capture ‘moments of affection’
Thirty years in the making, British photographer Mary McCartney teams up with friend and Gagosian director Georgina Cohen to create Moment of Affection, the artist’s first solo exhibition in France, opening June 22 at Château La Coste. Bringing together a collection of more than 20 works from McCartney’s personal archives, the exhibition presents floating moments of unguarded intimacy and connection infused with a deeply cinematic sensibility.
From the outset of her illustrious career, McCartney has used photography as a tool for what she describes as “collecting memories.” Over three decades, she has amassed some 5,000 contact sheets of loved ones and strangers alike, creating a mesmerizing repository of soul. Organized around themes of quiet expressions of affection and raw displays of love, Moment of Affection features exquisite portraits, still-lifes, street photography, and scenes of nature drawn from McCartney’s impressive archive.
Possessed with a profound understanding of the connection between subject and viewer, McCartney acts as a channel, allowing energy to flow between the past, present, and future. “The photograph is like a window into the moment and it feels quite filmic, so I don’t necessarily look at them as still images – I see so much around them,” she says. “I hope the viewer can see a picture of a tree and feel the breeze, almost like they are stepping into it.”
Here, McCartney reflects on her journey as a photographer, and why she is drawn towards tender, simple moments of universal displays of affection and love.
“I’ve always looked at things weirdly; I would just be wandering around, seeing things, and composing them as pictures in my mind. I don’t know if that’s because my mother was a photographer but for as long as I can remember I would see things and think about them as a photograph, even if I didn’t have a camera with me.
“Growing up, I lived in London and we’d go around to photography galleries to see work by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Lee Miller, Eve Arnold, Garry Winogrand, and Diane Arbus, classic photographers who caught my imagination with real moments. Then I moved towards portrait photography, immersing myself in the world of the corps de ballet dancers or Parisian nudes. I’m invited into people’s personal spaces to collaborate with them and there’s a lot of trust – an intimacy working together in front of the camera and communicating without necessarily having to say anything.
“That became something that gave me real satisfaction, and the circle is complete when I exhibit the pictures because I’m very aware of the viewer and their reaction. When I’m photographing I have the viewer in mind, and I imagine what they’re going to feel about the piece once it’s shown. I can tell you the story of how this photograph came about, but that almost doesn’t matter. The viewer will have an impression of something that may be a captured memory of their past or makes them think of a story behind it, and that completes the process.
“When I’m looking at a photograph, I fill in all those gaps and that’s what I’m aiming for the viewer to do. For me, photography is so powerful because it’s graphic. There’s a picture of a woman and a man’s feet – you can feel a tactile quality and tell there’s something else going on. Even though it looks quite simple, it evokes an emotion, a ‘moment of affection.’ It’s quite poignant.
“I come across moments like Family Circle, Sussex. We were visiting my dad for the weekend and I had just had my first child. I walked in and they were asleep on the sofa. I find it quite unusual because family photos are usually like, ‘Come on everyone – smile!’ But this is a very open and honest moment between grandfather and grandson, one of complete trust and comfort.
“Going back to the beginning of my archive to the present day reminds me that the same themes would keep coming back to me. I felt inspired to do more, to get out, explore, and connect with people at this time when we are coming out of the world that we’ve been living in. It’s great to be sharing my work again after such a long time. It feels like coming out of hibernation.”