After Finding Beauty and the Beatles, Pattie Boyd Seeks Picture Perfection

She was a vision of loveliness who attracted the eye of some of the best photographers in the world -- not to mention the fancy of two of rock 'n' roll's most iconic guitar heroes. Today, though, Pattie Boyd feels most comfortable on the other side of camera.
09/22/2015 11:49 am ET Updated Sep 21, 2016

She was a vision of loveliness who attracted the eye of some of the best photographers in the world -- not to mention the fancy of two of rock 'n' roll's most iconic guitar heroes.

Today, though, Pattie Boyd feels most comfortable on the other side of camera. She's taken her passion for photography to a professional level, and is wrapping up a tour of five American cities this week with the Behind the Lens exhibit, presenting still and moving images while telling some of the stories behind her work.

It's the last part that the perpetually shy Boyd struggles to pull off, she admitted over the phone last week after sharing the stage at City Winery Nashville with award-winning rock photographer Henry Diltz on September 13.

"It was done really well," said Boyd, whose past exhibition experiences didn't require getting up in front of an audience to speak. "Everybody enjoyed it. My part was an hour but Henry likes to talk longer than me. I was a little nervous to say the least when we were in L.A. (at Largo for the first event). And then (in Nashville), I felt a little more confident, maybe because we were in the winery."

The classy venue even presented them with a bottle displaying a Behind the Lens label. Laughing when asked if there was any taste tasting, Boyd said, "Most certainly we did and enjoyed it very much."

Among the attendees were rock guitarist Peter Frampton and roots music power couple Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who were honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting by the Americana Music Association three days later at Ryman Auditorium.

Even if this schedule can be somewhat stressful, it can hardly compare to the Swinging '60s and '70s, when Boyd was involved in intense relationships with George Harrison and Eric Clapton, both of whom wooed her in song (the Beatles' "Something" and Derek and the Dominos' "Layla," respectively).


Pattie Boyd (left) took this shot with George Harrison in front
of a climbing rosebush in their garden at Kinfauns in 1968.
© Pattie Boyd/Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery

Describing herself in her 2007 autobiography Wonderful Tonight as "the muse of two such extraordinarily creative musicians," she seemed relaxed to discuss other aspects of her life that involve the present, not the past.

High-profile marriages that ended with divorces from both men kept her gorgeous face in the public eye for years afterward but it was the ability to eventually draw a crowd with her photographic exhibitions that finally gave Boyd "an amazingly good feeling to be valued for myself as a professional," she wrote in the book that was No. 1 on The New York Times' best-seller list.

Pouring her heart and soul into that intriguing, intimate read without delving into sordid details, Boyd added in the epilogue: "But given my life over again, I wouldn't change anything. I love music. I loved anything that went with rock 'n' roll."

Obviously, her brush with Beatlemania in 1964 thrust her into the spotlight when, at the age of 20, she was cast to play one of five fawning schoolgirls in A Hard Day's Night, which depicted a day in the life of the suddenly Fab Four, their generation's musical Marx Brothers.

At the time, Boyd didn't possess the qualifications (or desire) to be a Beatles groupie or film actress. Not owning any of their albums until it was suggested she buy one after getting the role, Boyd was a fashion model who had done commercials but already was thinking of ways to get behind the lens.

"I'm much better being an audience," she said, laughing when asked if she ever considered becoming a musician. "That's why I'm in photography. I like to observe and see what's going on. Not be the one that's onstage. And so to be onstage now (during these presentations) is so against my grain. I find it incredibly difficult. I have to take in a deep breath and be brave because it's so against my nature."

She could handle being a model because "you don't have to say anything," Boyd said. "You just have to stand there and pose. ... You're hiding behind the makeup and the clothes."

Supporting actresses can do that, too, so there must have been a notion in the back of her mind about choosing that profession.

"None whatsoever. Ever, ever," Boyd said, sounding sickened by the thought. "I was freaked out when my agent told me that I got a part in a Beatles film. I went, 'No, no, no. I don't want to be an actress.' And they said, 'It's fine. You just need to walk on dressed in a school uniform.' And I'm like, 'Oh, gosh, can I do that?' As long as I didn't have to speak, I thought that would be OK."

Boyd first appeared nine minutes into A Hard Day's Night as a giggling teenager, reacting to the flirtatious Paul McCartney and John Lennon as the Beatles took a train to their next groovy gig. She did have a one-word reply -- "Prisoners?" -- to Wilfrid Brambell, who plays McCartney's grumpy grandfather giving the smitten schoolgirls a stern warning about the teddy boys: "You must not fraternize with me prisoners."

Before the Beatles reach their next destination greeted by maniacal kids screaming at the top of their lungs, the Liverpool lads serenade the adoring but respectful female passengers (Lennon refers to them as "the talent") with "I Should Have Known Better."

Who knows if that number served as a prophetic message, but Boyd couldn't resist the advances of Harrison, and the dating game quickly began, leading to their January 1966 marriage. In her book, Boyd gave her first impression of him after they met:

"...George, with velvet brown eyes and dark chestnut hair, was the best-looking man I'd ever seen."

While, at least according to her publicist, Boyd preferred to focus on her photography instead of her personal life during this abbreviated interview, she didn't hesitate to follow up on that thought when asked who has been her most photogenic subject.

"I think George," Boyd said of the Beatles guitarist who died in 2001 at age 58. "He has the most extraordinary face and beautiful structure. So nice to photograph."

Critiquing each other's photography "wasn't a big point of discussion," she said. But the hobby for Harrison (many examples can be found in the book released to coincide with the 2011 documentary film George Harrison: Living in the Material World directed by Martin Scorsese) soon developed into a full-blown passion for Boyd.

She recalled a picture taken of her at the age of 10 looking at a tripod as a possible early indicator of her interest. One of her first boyfriends (Eric Swayne) was a photographer and, becoming a model, she couldn't help but get drawn into that artistic scene.

"I eventually saved enough money to buy my own camera," Boyd said. "And, of course, I took advantage of the fact that I had all these great guys who could help me and explain how cameras work. ...

"I was itching to do it because everybody I knew were photographers or models. So I had lots of models and friends to photograph and I loved, I realized I loved taking photos. And also I think it was kind of a natural progression." Boyd (right) on the cover of Vogue in 1969.

Fashion photographer David Bailey, whose assignments included shooting Boyd for Vogue magazine, was particularly "helpful and sweet," she said. "He would show me what to look for through the lens. And then he told me about f-stops, which was always confusing."

When her 10-year marriage to Clapton officially ended in 1989, Boyd said, "I was sort of in the wilderness for a while, not knowing what to do, where to go, where my direction was in life. And I was looking everywhere, except at my camera."

Finally telling herself, "I'm going to take it really seriously instead of just taking photographs of people who were great friends," Boyd attended a three-month course in photography and darkroom printing. She bought lighting equipment, then put up a darkroom in her garden to include an enlarger that was "like an old tank" and committed much of her life to learning more about the profession.

Along the way, her subjects varied but Boyd was never biased as she felt "an incredible physical rush, a buzz" during her quest to take the perfect picture. Boyd (left) photographs herself in the mirror. © Pattie Boyd/Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery.

"I got a few jobs with magazines as well as for photographing people -- models, actresses, whoever needed pictures ...," she said, pausing to finish off the punch line with an ironic touch.

This time she filled in the blank with "musicians" instead of "prisoners," following it up with that same schoolgirl giggle she exhibited 51 years ago.

Even as a shooter recognized by the Royal Photographic Society while adapting to the digital age, Boyd refuses to make snap judgments.

The Behind the Lens tour concludes Wednesday (September 23) at Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Massachusetts. For more of Pattie Boyd's photos, see her catalog on the Morrison Hotel Gallery website.