By Jeremy Miles
FACED with the breakdown of his marriage to Heather Mills, it's hardly surprising that Paul McCartney sought solace in memories of happier times.
Now the recently divorced former Beatle is able to share the fruits of three years spent painstakingly sorting through the photographic archive of his late first wife Linda.
The resulting images - dating from the mid-1960s to shortly before Linda's untimely death from breast cancer in 1998 - go on show at London's prestigious James Hyman Gallery this weekend. The exhibition runs until July 19.
The pictures present a fascinating personal record of some extraordinary people and times, and feature many rarely seen works, as well as some already well-known images.
The collection includes portraits of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Simon and Garfunkel, Gilbert and George and Mick Jagger. It also presents intriguing examples of landscapes, intimate interiors, self-portraits and, of course, family life.
To ensure each photographic print remained true to Linda McCartney's original vision, Paul Caffell (with whom she worked throughout her career), personally ran off each platinum print, while Paul and photographer daughter Mary McCartney oversaw the process and gave final approval.
"An exhibition presenting the range of Linda's photographic work is long overdue, so I'm obviously pleased that this show is happening," says Paul.
"James Hyman, my daughter Mary and I have worked on it now for three years, and the result is a sensitive selection of works that really demonstrates Linda's prodigious output as a photographer.
"The photographs not only illustrate her incredible talent as an artist, but as someone who was very much connected to the culture of the times, and wasn't afraid to challenge herself, or her subject."
The collection is not only wide-ranging but the work of a photographer uniquely placed to gain access to some of the most famous faces of her generation on a one-to-one level.
For as well as the intimate family shots, complete with megastar husband, there are pictures of huge names who were also good friends.
Art historian and gallery owner James Hyman says: "They are such terrific photographs and this is a wonderful opportunity to show them.
"A lot will have been seen in books or in the press, but they have not been brought together like this.
"People will be able to see how beautiful they are - they are photojournalism, but they are also art."
In the wake of Paul McCartney's acrimonious, highly public split from Mills, Linda is now finally being seen as his one true love and soul-mate.
Yet when she first arrived on the scene, Linda Eastman was portrayed as a pushy American divorcee who had networked her way through the music scene until she'd netted a Beatle. When she actually married Paul back in March 1969, many fans were horrified.
She would continue to be criticised by both fans and the press when she was drafted in to play keyboards in Paul's next band Wings, and there were those that continued to regard her with suspicion over everything from her dubious musicianship to her penchant for meat-free sausages and burgers (a step too far for many back in the 1970s).
Her photographic work, however, has always found acceptance. For although she was no great technician she had a very definite eye and an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the events leading up to her first published pictures at a Rolling Stones photo-shoot in New York more than 40 years ago.
Linda was working as a receptionist on a Manhattan society magazine at the time. She spotted an invitation to the Stones picture session lying on a desk and stuck it in her handbag, figuring that this was an opportunity too good to miss.
She borrowed a camera and went off to meet the Stones. Within a couple of months she was on her way and working as house photographer at the famed Fillmore East.
Her archive, though, is so much more than a collection of celebrity portraits. It is a unique body of work, a fascinating slice of social history captured from a unique perspective.
One suspects that even Linda would be amazed by the photographs on show at James Hyman. They are beautifully presented as large platinum prints and on sale in very limited editions, authenticated with a certificate signed by Paul McCartney.
In addition, a catalogue is available with personal contributions from Sir Peter Blake, Paul Caffell, Humphrey Ocean, Brian Clarke and, of course, Macca himself.
For more information, visit jameshymanfineart.com