Mary McCartney is no stranger to the public eye. The oldest daughter of The Beatles singer Paul McCartney, she has grown up in front of the camera—from the photo of her as a baby tucked inside her father’s jacket on his first solo album to the ongoing paparazzi shots snapped at public outings. But she is more interested in being on the other side of the lens.
Beyond stage performances and composed photo shoots or even the public persona of ordinary people, she aims to capture the intimate moments of private life—dressing room preparation, a lover’s goodbye, a pre-performance rehearsal. “When you are at home or in your own environment, you appreciate the privacy it affords so much more because you don’t always have it,” she says. “It’s an interesting thing, to attempt to capture those moments of real honesty in a way that is not exploitative or sensationalist, but artistic.”
Mary McCartney’s celebrity status gave her unprecedented access to the lives of the rich and famous. Last year, she released Monochrome & Colour, a book filled with hundreds of candid celebrity shots, from Kate Moss to Madonna. She was also interested in the lives of the lesser known, launching the #someone Instagram project: hundreds of iPhone snapshots that reveal the beauty in the everyday to nearly 60,000 followers. That was before her recent photo shoot with Queen Elizabeth in her private audience room. This fall, she is sharing her own private moments with the public in a new exhibit that features snapshots of her family alongside her mother’s work.
The installation, which spans three decades, explores fleeting moments of intimacy in the McCartney family and a vast array of celebrities—Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Rihanna. The exhibit is organized in groupings of images that suggest a kind of harmony between mother and daughter in how they capture a moment and establish emotional rapport. “The aim is that the viewer will see them together and the narrative will spark their imagination,” Mary tells TIME. “They may think, ‘I wonder who took that one, was it Linda or was it Mary?’”
Since the mid-1960s, her mother, Linda McCarthy, produced images that typified the then music revolution. Her portrait shots cast an unflinching eye on such icons as B.B. King, The Rolling Stones, and The Grateful Dead. In 1969, Linda became the first female photographer to shoot the cover for Rolling Stone magazine. A year later, she married Paul. “My mum and dad were both interested in photography, so I grew up subconsciously seeing a lot of photography in books and exhibitions and having it in my day-to-day life,” says Mary, now 46. “In a way, I thought that was normal. It wasn’t until later that I realized that not everybody takes pictures all the time.”
Her interest in photography grew when her mother asked her to edit her images for an exhibition, flipping through her contact sheets. “I had been around when she was taking pictures, but I hadn’t seen what had come out of it,” Mary says. “That gave me the extra push to want to do it myself.”
One image of her mother’s stood out to her in particular, a picture of Jimi Hendrix yawning. “He was so relaxed around her, so at ease,” she says. “That was such a real moment that really stayed with me.”
It’s a photographic approach they both share: helping their subjects to feel comfortable. “Some photographers try to impose their view on the picture, saying this is how I want the picture to be,” says Mary. “My mother’s style and mine is much more collaborative and much more connected to the sitter or the subject.”
The exhibit showcases some seemingly unrelated photos that invite pause for reflection. One image depicts a couple dancing on a tightrope backstage, which hangs beside an image of her mother in a similar position. Another shows Paul comically holding a rose in his mouth, coupled with an almost mirroring photo of her mother. “I got excited about the groupings and the narrative that they create,” Mary says.
Today, she stays involved with her mother’s archive, which holds thousands of images. She hopes to pursue a book for her #someone project and until then, she will continue snapping spontaneous shots of anonymous but significant someones.
The exhibit, titled Linda McCartney and Mary McCartney: Mother Daughter, runs from November 20 to December 19, 2015 at the Gagosian Gallery in New York.
Mary McCartney is based in London. Her work has been exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery, London and The Waterfront, New York City, among others.Linda McCartney and Mary McCartney: Mother Daughter opens today.
Michelle Molloy, who edited this photo essay, is a senior international photo editor at TIME.