Today, the V&A has announced a gift of photographs by Mary McCartney – the artist known for her intimate, observational photographs. The prints are from her first ever solo show Off Pointe – A Photographic Study of the Royal Ballet After Hours.
Taken in 2004, McCartney’s seminal series captures unguarded, behind-the-scenes moments of ballet dancers as they prepare for performances at The Royal Opera House. After a long fascination with ballet, it was a 2004 night out in London’s Soho with Royal Ballet dancer, Sian Murphy, that inspired McCartney to reveal unseen aspects of the ballet world, including "the highs and lows and the prestige and chaos behind the scenes".
McCartney chose to shoot Off Pointe in black and white for its gritty, filmic quality. She wanted her images to look timeless, inviting viewers to fill in the gaps. After spending a significant period getting to know Murphy and her fellow dancers, McCartney was granted access to photograph intimate moments inside their homes and dressing rooms to capture everything but the stage. From dancers smoking in between acts and drinking Diet Coke in their dressing rooms, to gnarled feet soaking in a bath and the haunting image of an exhausted lone dancer climbing the stairs, her bodice gaping open post-performance, McCartney’s series depicts the real-life dedication behind the poised perfection seen on-stage.
"I’m inspired to make photographs that have a candid, honest quality," says McCartney. "Through ‘Off Pointe’, I wanted to document the hidden details of the ballet world and reveal the contrast between the sometimes gruelling, painful lifestyle of the dancers and their fairy-tale performances. I’m excited that the prints now belong in the V&A. I felt that the museum would really understand this personal project and offer them the perfect home."
Mary McCartney’s photographs go on display in the V&A’s new Photography Centre from 12 October 2018. Her pictures join the National Collection of the Art of Photography, held at the V&A. It is one of the largest and most important collections of historic and contemporary photographs in the world.
On Monday 22 October, McCartney will be in conversation with V&A Curator, Susanna Brown, to talk about her work, family and inspirations and how the three often collide. The event is part of the V&A’s Photography Spotlight – a month-long series of events and activities to celebrate the opening of the new Photography Centre. More at www.vam.ac.uk.