In good company

PUBLISHED: 15:58 24 September 2007 | UPDATED: 14:52 20 February 2013

Lighting up 
Not a sight you would expect to see backstage.

Lighting up Not a sight you would expect to see backstage. "I've been really surprised that dancers drink and smoke and stay up late but at the same time are really dedicated, says Mary. "I thought they would be very clean living and go to bed at ten"

She's photographed Jude Law, Ralph Fiennes and Cherie Blair and was inspired to become a photographer by her late mother Linda. Mary McCartney's first solo exhibition was a behind the scenes study of the Royal Ballet. It's now showing in Brighton ...

Sussex Life

THERE'S something magical about the Royal Ballet. Its dancers give fairytale performances delivered with a grace and style - a talent only few are blessed with. They tour the world mesmerising audiences with their interpretations of Swan Lake, The Snow Queen, The Nutcracker and more. Yet, theirs is a gruelling profession. A tiring schedule of performances packed into a career that lasts no more than a decade or so and inevitably takes its toll on their bodies and soul. It was this contradiction, between fact and fairytale, which intrigued Mary McCartney.

It was 2004 and Mary was out with friends in a Soho bar when she was introduced to Vanessa Fenton, choreographer and member of the Corps de Ballet - a meeting that would provide the inspiration for Mary's first exhibition, Off-Pointe.

"It occurred to me that they are nothing like what you'd expect of a dancer at the Royal Ballet," she says. "I was surprised to see them in a bar. I suppose like many people I thought they would be very clean living and go to bed at ten. I had been offered exhibitions before and so I thought why do one on the dancers. I was really interested in what they are like when they are not on stage. Were they really these clean-living, fitness-obsessed people that everyone thinks they are?"

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She was clear about what she wanted and managed to persuade the dancers to buy into the idea. "I went and sat in on a couple of performances and picked out a couple of dancers that I'd like to photograph," says Mary. "It was really important that they felt comfortable with me around as I wanted to capture them off-stage."

Mary spent two months with the dancers, including a spell in New York and was determined not to photograph them during performances. Throughout the project, Mary was able to capture glimpses of the dancers' lives backstage, not seen before and at complete odds with the traditional image of the ballet. Take Cinderella Converse for example. "One of my favourites," says Mary. "It's during one of the shows and the dancer, Gemma, is just going out to get a packet of crisps."

There's also the striking image of dancer Josh, lighting a cigarette between appearances. "He just looked so good and yet there was having a cigarette break. There was a real family atmosphere among the dancers, and I hope this comes across."

Brought up on her parents' farm near Rye, East Sussex , Mary lived a relatively normal life and along with her younger sister Stella, brother James and half sister Heather was brought up as a vegetarian. She was inspired to become a photographer by her late mother Linda, who died from breast cancer in 1998. She began taking portrait images specialising in fashion photography in 1992 and also became the picture editor for a book publisher. But it was the Off-Pointe exhibition that was her first venture into exhibition photography...

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