Linda McCartney: Band Member with a Camera

Jim Morrison by Linda Eastman

In the mid-1960s, rock ‘n’ roll as an industry was still in its infancy, with borders that hadn’t yet solidified between fan, band, and media. If you were a rock fan with a camera you were a photographer, and if you had a notebook you were a journalist (see “Almost Famous”). Either way you’d get access to the band. In keeping with the times, many of the The Doors’ photographers weren’t professionals and didn’t intend to be. They were fans who were taking pictures of their friends or heroes.

Linda Eastman got her start as a Doors photographer in the same way.

Eastman was born into the music business. Her father Lee Eastman was an attorney who represented artists and musicians, and Linda grew up in an environment that included Willem de Kooning and a Brooklyn songwriter named Jack Lawrence, who wrote a song called “Linda” in 1942 for the one year-old Eastman. (Contrary to rumor, Lee Eastman was not related to George Eastman of Eastman-Kodak fame.)

Like many kids who came of age with rock ‘n’ roll, Linda Eastman had an early interest in sneaking out of her parents’ house to see rock films and shows. At Alan Freed’s rock ‘n’ roll revues in New York, she encountered many performers who made a strong impression, including Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Little Richard, and Fats Domino.

In college Eastman majored in art history and developed an interest in black-and-white films from Italy and France. But it wasn’t until after college when she was living in Arizona that she attended a photography course at the local arts center. The center had a showing of the Depression-era photographers Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, whose striking portraits of 1930s migrant camps and tenant farmers convinced Eastman that still images could be as provocative as moving pictures or concerts.

Eastman’s early photographs were of her daughter and of nature. When she moved back to New York she supported herself working at “Town and Country Magazine,” and during her lunch hour she would hang out in the photography section at the Museum of Modern Art. Her first portraits were of The Dave Clark Five, and during a Rolling Stones party on a yacht she was the only photographer allowed on board (it probably didn’t hurt that she was a cute blond). Her career as a rock photographer had started.

Brian Jones and Mick Jagger, June 1966
Brian Jones and Mick Jagger, June 1966, by Linda Eastman
The Rolling Stones, 1966
The Rolling Stones, 1966
The Stones, June 1966
The Stones, June 1966, by Linda Eastman

Eastman first met The Doors at Ondine in the winter of 1966. This was before the first album had been released, when The Doors were an unknown band hoping to make it. She wouldn’t see them again until March of ‘67 when The Doors returned to New York to play Ondine and Steve Paul’s The Scene.

The Doors at Ondine, 1966
The Doors at Ondine, New York City, 1966, by Linda Eastman
The Doors at Ondine, 1966, by Linda Eastman
The Doors at Ondine, 1966, by Linda Eastman

It was when Jim Morrison was on the verge of stardom that Eastman got to know him well, and they’d go to bookstores, or Chinatown, or just hang out in Eastman’s apartment. Eastman’s photographs of The Doors in this era hardly depict a wild rock band. Mostly The Doors are all dressed in brown or black clothing, as Jim Morrison hadn’t yet graduated to the leathers that would make him almost as famous as the music. The band seen onstage still looks a little tentative, although Eastman noted they performed as a cohesive whole.

Jim Morrison by Linda Eastman
Jim Morrison by Linda Eastman

Eastman would also have close relationships with much of the ’60s rock royalty such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Janis Joplin, and she credits her success as a photographer for not posing her subjects and instead being “a band member whose chosen instrument was the camera.” Eastman’s most famous subject was Paul McCartney, and most people will remember Eastman as Linda McCartney.

Paul and Linda McCartney, 1967
Paul McCartney and Linda Eastman, at the “Sgt. Pepper” release party in London, May 1967
John and Paul, Abbey Road Studios, 1968
John and Paul, Abbey Road Studios, 1968, by Linda Eastman
Paul in the studio, 1970
Paul in the studio, 1970, by Linda McCartney
John Lennon, Abbey Road, 1968
John Lennon, Abbey Road Studios, 1968, by Linda Eastman

Eastman and McCartney were married in March of 1969 and raised Eastman’s daughter from her first marriage as well as having three children together. Eastman-McCartney would play in McCartney’s band Wings, and she would write vegetarian cookbooks and start a vegetarian food line. Sadly, she died of breast cancer at age 56 in 1998.

For more of Linda McCartney’s work, visit one of her numerous online galleries or see her photography collections like “Linda McCartney’s Sixties” or “Life in Photographs“.

Originally published October 15, 2012.

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