Jim Marshall died today. That name might not mean much to lots of folks, even photographic folks, but we are all the poorer for his passing. He was an iconic shooter of the rock and roll scene in it’s heyday. He lived hard, and chased pictures even harder. He didn’t shoot raw files. He just shot raw. His demands for access were as unflinching as his lens. “If someone doesn’t want me to shoot them, fine, fuck ‘em,” he said. “But if they do, there can’t be any restrictions.”
An eye that doesn’t blink can be unflattering. One of Jim’s most famous images is Johnny Cash at San Quentin, flipping the camera the bird. Hendrix, Joplin. Jim shot them all. His way. Real isn’t necessarily pretty. But it can be memorable.
“I don’t sign shit either, I own all of my photographs and no one I’ve shot, not Dylan, not Miles, not Cash, has ever complained about how my pictures of them have been used.”
We are at a place where 50 or 60 or 100 shooters all vie for space in the pit for 3 songs, if that. All of them are outside the velvet rope, hoping for a glimpse, waiting for an opening. Jim, working in a different era, made his own openings. His pictures smell of sweat, incense and dope. They pop, ’cause they’re real. And, more importantly, he owned them. He was careful with his negs. As he said, “I took care of my negatives. Now they take care of me.”
Has anyone ever shot a memorable picture of, for instance, Coldplay? I ask this question from afar, as I am not a rock and roll shooter. From what I hear, again, from a serious distance, is that this is a band, like many, who has left the term “control freak” in the rear view mirror. Absolute control of image, and images. I guess that’s understandable. It’s a business. Good music, to be sure. Sanitized, moderated imagery. Will we look in 20 years? Will that retouched, altered image hit a nerve? Seeing as many shooters now have to sign over rights to gain access, will we ever see it? Because of his talent, and tough stance, and his steely eye through a Leica, Jim gave us memory. I cannot imagine growing up without knowing the picture of Hendrix setting his guitar on fire.
I met Jim several times. That doesn’t mean I knew him. Actually, quite the contrary. I had to be re-introduced every time we bumped into each other. He was always direct, and said on a couple of occasions, sotto voce, “You know Joe, I don’t really know your work.” That was more than okay. It was, in a funny way, validation. He was Jim. He didn’t need to know.
My wife Annie befriended Jim. He was fond of her. (Who isn’t?) She tried to guide him through the digital woods, but their conversations almost always veered away from pixels into matters far more interesting. He sent her autographed books, and gave her a suite of signed prints, which are on our walls. The print of Hendrix up top is her favorite.
“I love all these musicians – they’re like family,” he said. “Looking back, I realize I was there at the beginning of something special, I’m like a historian. There’s an honesty about this work that I’m proud of. It feels good to think, my God, I really captured something amazing.”
Looking back from where we are now, even more amazing. More tk….