show & tell

A New Book Shows Why Camilla McGrath Was the Lens of the Party

By
Photography Camilla McGrath

Published October 26, 2020

Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Mick Jagger at Mr. Chow, July 1985.

The second half of the 20th century had its share of “It” couples— Mick and Bianca, John and Yoko, Mick and Jerry. But behind those sensational star pairings is another stratum of people who might not have received as much gossip-column ink, but who were nonetheless essential insider beacons for the social swirl of the times. Camilla and Earl McGrath were one such couple. A daughter of Italian aristocracy and a son of rough-and-tumble Wisconsinites, the two made for an unexpected and beloved match. They met in 1958 at the then–newly formed Spoleto arts festival, and for nearly five decades, entertained their friends—some of the most glamorous figures in art, music, literature, and film—in their homes on various coasts.

Earl had nine lives’ worth of occupations, including screenwriter, music producer (and eventually head of Rolling Stones Records), and art gallerist. Camilla, on the other hand, fostered one true passion for photography that she cultivated at an early age and continued for the remainder of her life. This fall, Knopf publishes Face to Face: The Photographs of Camilla McGrath, a gorgeous, jet-set testament to the delicious depth of the McGraths’ personal address book. Culled from Camilla’s photo albums, which have recently been bequeathed to the New York Public Library, the book documents the warm, relaxed intimacies of Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, and Paloma Picasso at a birthday party for Jerry Hall in 1985; the Dunnes (that’s Joan Didion and John Gregory) at Thanksgiving in 1992; the Agnellis on their yacht; Jackie and Lee on a sisterly trip to Italy; Peter Beard in the Hamptons; Harrison Ford chatting up Carrie Fisher in a doorway; and the carousing of everyone from New York’s Frank O’Hara to Los Angeles’s Sharon Tate.

A weekend at Andy Warhol’s compound in Montauk, July 1976. Included among the guests: (standing, from left) Suzie Frankfurt, Fred Hughes, Jed Johnson, Magritte Ramme, Peter Beard, Catherine Guinness, and Shelly Fremont; (seated in chairs, from left) Dick Cavett (in hat), Vincent Fremont, Andy, Valentine Guinness, Barbara Allen, and Jennifer Jakobsen.

Examining Camilla’s tender, unassuming portraits, one doesn’t get the sense of a predatory paparazzo behind the lens, but rather a close friend shooting someone in a moment of letting their guard down. These are larger-than-life figures brought down to coffee-table size. Camilla died in 2007; Earl (who jokingly called his countess wife “the Nazi of the Nikon”) followed her in 2016, and yet the party, at least in these photos, lives on.

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Joan Didion and Earl McGrath at the Dunnes’ house in Trancas, 1974.

Anjelica Huston, July 1984.

 

Diane von Furstenberg and John Waters at an event for Leo Castelli Gallery at Industria Superstudio, May 1992.

Andy Warhol with his dachshund, Archie, in Montauk, July 1976.

Fran Lebowitz with Jerome Robbins on the bocce court in Italy, September 1983.

Tina Chow, Annie Leibovitz, and André Leon Talley at a birthday party for Jerry Hall at Mr. Chow, July 1985.

At a lunch at Marlia in Italy, August 1982. From left, Ferdinando di Bagno, Maurizio della Porta, Princess Margaret, Rufo Ruffo, and Milton Gendel.

Jacqueline Kennedy on a visit to Camilla McGrath’s family home, Marlia, Italy, September 1955.

Jerry Hall, Richard Gere, and Jerry’s sister Rosy Hall at a birthday party for Sabrina Guinness and Jann Wenner, January 1985.

Bianca Jagger in Barbados at Thanksgiving, November 1974.