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This week, an exhibition of portraits shot by Mary McCartney is on view in New York, part of De Beers’ “Moments in Light” campaign. Looking confident and radiant in DeBeers jewelry, architect Zaha Hadid, jazz pianist Diana Krall, actress and singer Karen Mok, model and activist Liya Kebede were captured by McCartney in their element. The sale of the photographs, first unveiled in London, will benefit the Women for Women foundation, which funds classrooms around the world where women can learn new skills. Whitewall spoke with McCartney earlier this fall about “Moment in Light” as well as her new show of photographs by her and her mother, Linda, that opens today at Gagosian gallery in New York.
WHITEWALL: What did you want to capture in these portraits for De Beers’ “Moments in Light” series?
MARY MCCARNTEY: When doing the project, I found it quite inspiring spending the day with these women. I wanted an energy to come across that allows people to engage with them. I always had De Beers in mind, so I wanted it light and luminous, like their jewelry designs. I tried to keep all of that in mind when I was photographing.
I was thinking of it as an exhibition, so I was taking these portraits individually on different days and imagining them in a group together. I imagined the images hanging alongside each other and how they would connect. I wanted it to feel quite fresh, light, natural, and clean.
WW: Were they all shot in London, where you’re based?
MM: They were all shot in London except Diana Krall, who was photographed in New York. Karen was on a rooftop in London. For her, because she travels all around the world, I wanted to connect her with the view. I had photographed her before in Italy so this was like going on another little adventure. We ended up on the top of the building that was used in the last James Bond film. You can see Big Ben, you can see the London Eye, so it’s a really special view.
WW: The photograph of Zaha Hadid, is that in her studio?
MM: It’s in her design showroom in London. I wanted to photograph her in front of her designs. I think that made her feel more comfortable within her own world. The shelf in the background in white and gold shelf, those kind of strong lines made it a really strong setting.
WW: Can you tell us about shooting Liya Kebede? We imagine she was quite comfortable in front of the camera.
MM: She’s so confident in front of the camera but with her I wanted to have more of a natural element. When I thought of her I imagined an image of her against a white wall somewhere with a bright light and shadow. I wanted natural elements because she’s quite a natural beauty.
WW: With Diana, was she expecting to be photographed with a piano?
MM: We wanted to keep it quite clean. I wanted it to be about her and not her instrument. And I did deal with that by having a black reflective surface, I think that makes you feel like she’s next to a piano, but she’s not. I wanted for her to feel confidant on her own. I think she really enjoyed it. She really trusted me.
WW: How do you create that sort of environment, where your subject feels comfortable? Does it mean less people on set?
MM: I kind of pride myself on trying to think about the subject and consider them. These kinds of photo shoots are quite a bit of a production. So I’ll try keep and the team as small as possible so I can connect with the person and they’re not distracted by the people around. My main thing is to make a subject feel relaxed so they can be themselves in front of the camera.
WW: You have a strong presence on Instagram, where you’ve started a series, I guess we can call it, captioned with the hashtag “#someone.” Can you tell us about that?
MM: When I first saw Instagram I loved it because I’m a visual person. I connected to Twitter but Twitter isn’t really something that’s relevant to me and I don’t type and tweet, I’m very much more visual. I think I like the immediacy and simplicity, to be able to photograph something on my phone and upload it. I think it really shows my style of photography, being able to see a moment. People interest me and the reason I like taking photographs of people is because I feel like everyone has a story behind them. I’ll see someone and I’ll wonder what their story is about, start day-dreaming about them and that keeps me interested, I never get bored of that.
WW: And that relates more to your personal work, rather than commissioned work?
MM: Yes, I do my more commercial work and then I do my personal work, which is me going off and photographing on my own, exploring in monochrome and color. I’m working on a show right now that we’re bringing to Gagosian in New York. It’s called “Mother Daughter.” It’s a collection of mine and my mom’s photographs.
“Mother Daughter” is on view through December 19 at 976 Madison Ave.