Mary McCartney on the Importance of Still Photography in a Video-Centric World

A look back at her work for Alzheimer's Society and a peek at what's next

Video killed the radio star but still photography remains a force.

Earlier this month, Alzheimer's Society launched "Ultimate Vow" to illustrate the devastating effects that dementia wreaks on patients, family members and caregivers. The campaign featured an online video and a series of still photos, shot by Mary McCartney, of couples living the "in sickness" element of their wedding vows.

We spoke with McCartney (daughter of Sir Paul) about her work with Alzheimer's Society and what photography can capture that video snippets cannot.

What drew you to the Alzheimer's Society rebrand and why was it important for you to be a part of it?

McCartney: I was drawn to the Alzheimer's Society rebrand due to my personal connection with the cause. A family member of mine suffered from dementia, and witnessing the impact of this disease on individuals and their families inspired me to use my skills as a photographer to raise awareness and help those affected. 

What did you want to express in your work that can't be found or conveyed in video?

Through my photography, I aimed to capture the moments of joy, love and connection that are often overlooked in discussions about dementia and can be lost in the fast-paced nature of video.

I wanted to capture the essence of what made each couple's relationship special, and to communicate the importance of these bonds in the face of the challenges posed by dementia.One of the most rewarding aspects of this project was the opportunity to witness the resilience and dedication of the couples as they supported each other through the difficulties of dementia. 

How challenging was it to capture these couples in such a raw, vulnerable way?

Every shoot comes with its own challenges, especially when shooting "real people" as opposed to models, but it's a process I love to be a part of. My work is all about people and their relationships. A shoot like this is highly rewarding. 

Before any pictures were taken, I spent time with each couple, getting to know them and building a relationship of trust and comfort. I wanted to understand their experiences of dementia, as well as the unique qualities of their relationship and their personalities. This allowed me to create a visual narrative that was authentic and emotionally engaging.

In a world of short form video, why is it important to use still photography in campaigns?

Photography can capture a single moment in time, conveying a depth of emotion and detail that can be missed in video. A single photograph can convey a story or an emotion in a way that is immediate and impactful, allowing the viewer to connect with the subject in a deeply personal way. Your eyes have time to scan the frame—this single moment in time and allow you to form those stories at your own pace.

Stills have a timeless quality that can create a sense of nostalgia or emotional resonance. A well-executed photograph can create a lasting impression in the viewer's mind, and can continue to evoke emotions and memories long after it was taken.

Are you seeing brands and organizations shift more towards video vs still shots?

I have seen the trend towards brands and organizations using more video in their campaigns. It's driven in part by the popularity of social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, which prioritize video content over still photography.

However, I believe that there is still a place for still photography in campaigns, as it offers a unique combination of immediacy, impact and emotional resonance.

That being said, I also recognize the value of video in campaigns, as it offers a dynamic and engaging way to tell a story and connect with audiences. Video can be used to convey complex information, demonstrate products or services, and create a sense of immediacy and excitement.

Ultimately, the choice between still photography and video will depend on the specific goals and needs of a campaign, as well as the preferences of the target audience. Both mediums have their strengths and can be used effectively to create compelling and impactful campaigns.

What's next?

I am fully immersed into two projects, my new cookbook, Feeding Creativity, published by Taschen later this year. Fusing my two passion of photography and food, I take a recipe to a creative I admire, I photograph them, we share a meal and then I share the anecdote and recipe in the book. Alongside this, I am also spending my days at my latest exhibition "Can We Have a Moment?" at Sotheby's London, where I have curated over 30 photographs spanning my career—all taken in Britain. It's an exhibition I am particularly proud of.

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