We all know the image – a young, blonde woman with intense blue eyes and a cropped knit of the same colour, staring intently down the barrel of the lens. Behind her a shirtless man with long hair fixes his gaze at the ground; both surrounded by red roses in full bloom, climbing along a white fence. The 1968 capture of model and photographer Pattie Boyd and her then-husband George Harrison has aged into an icon, however its architect, Boyd, describes its inception as a complete accident of timing. “What had happened is I had put my camera on a tripod and I put timer on, and the timer seemed to take so long that George just looked away,” she recalls down the line from her home in London. “And I remember looking curiously thinking, ‘is this ever going to work? Is it ever going to click?’.” The flash went off, the film was developed, and the photograph was eventually packed away into storage. “Many years ago when I discovered I had this one, I hadn’t seen it for years and I wasn’t sure if it was a little too intimate. I wasn’t going to show it to anyone, so I held it back for some time. And then eventually I thought, ‘well, maybe it’s OK, maybe it doesn’t matter if I show it’,” she laughs. “I am so very pleased that I did actually pursue [it] … it’s the colours, I think. The colours are so vibrant.”
“I just liked taking photographs – I got really excited about taking photographs. And in those days it was really exciting because I was using film and you have to wait some time before you get the film back.”
Born Patricia Anne in 1944, her formative years were spent at a convent school before she made her way to the beating heart of British hedonism in London. Boyd began her career as a model and quickly rose to fame as one of the faces of the swinging 60s. Her reputation as the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll muse was forged in 1964 when she first met Harrison on the set of The Beatles’s first film, A Hard Days Night, where she was asked to appear as an extra. The pair were eventually married, and it was around this time that Boyd first picked up a camera. “At that time I was modelling, and I was working with all these great photographers. I just saved up my money, bought a camera and just took advantage of that platform. I got quite a lot of help from them.” British fashion and portrait photographer, David Bailey, become somewhat of a mentor to Boyd. “David Bailey was really kind, you know, and he was really helpful.
“Many years later, I photographed him, so that was quite fun.” During the 60s and 70s, Boyd went on to capture iconic behind the scenes moments with the Beatles, and, following the end of her marriage with Harrison, her second husband Eric Clapton. The couple’s well-documented relationship (Clapton initially wrote Layla to seduce Boyd away from Harrison) and it’s eventual demise coincided with her pursuit of photography as a career. “When Eric and I spilt up, and I really needed to do something, at first I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I was unemployable, and I’d forgotten that I could actually take photographs,” says Boyd. “I spoke to a few people that I knew who worked on newspapers and magazines and asked if I could do jobs for them. At first it was slightly intimidating and I don’t know if they believed I could do it. And my first job, I remember, they sent another photographer, to watch me taking photographs.”
“I think I prefer [life] now. I’m more spoilt, because I can work when I feel like it, and I can photograph what I like.”
Years later at the insistence of friends, Boyd revisited her packed away memories from the 60s and 70s, believing there might be only two or three images worth displaying. “They were sort of in boxes and envelopes and I had forgotten about them until somebody one day suggested that maybe I have an exhibition, that maybe I had some photographs. I didn’t think I had enough … and someone said ‘just have a look'”, says Boyd. And there was her past. Clapton and Harrison drinking and smoking on the brown leather couch in the home she shared with Harrison. Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon laughing on patio furniture in black and white. Clapton playing to tens of thousands of people at Surrey’s Blackbush festival. Did the personal nature of the captures worry her? “Yes, I thought, maybe, that some of my photographs are too intimate. And then also I wasn’t sure if I could handle it either. You know? Looking back at photographs taken at a time that was vey happy and joyful, and then everything sort of disappeared and my life completely changed. To begin with it was really quite difficult because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share these memories with other people who I had never met before.”
“I had my first exhibition, one in San Francisco, and people were so happy, they loved it so much I thought maybe the time has come where I can write a book about my memories and then carry on having exhibitions if people would like to see them.”
Boyd had since travelled across the world with her photography, and is returning to Australia for her second exhibition at Sydney’s Blender Gallery, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me. “It’s a retrospective. I had an exhibition there 10 years ago and I tried to bring in other photographs that hadn’t been seen before,” she explains. “I just think that as a whole body of work I’m excited for people to see it, you know? And enjoy as well. I think that they are historical photographs, they are moments captured in time – and lucky I had my camera then, lucky I was photographing. At the time I didn’t realise, obviously, that I would be exhibiting – I just thought these photographs were for me. And its so funny, so extraordinary. You never know what in life you are preparing for the future, unconsciously.”
George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me will be on display at Blender Gallery, Sydney, from May 5 through June 2.