Legendary rock photographer shot everyone from the Beatles, Rolling
Stones and Ray Charles to Johnny Cash (the infamous middle finger photo),
Hendrix (torching his axe) and the musicians at Woodstock.
By Barry St. Vitus
Hard-living, tough talking,
iconic rock photographer Jim Marshall passed away Wednesday (March 24) in his
sleep, at his Castro Street
apartment in San Francisco.
He was 74.
Marshall, known for his legendary shots of
rock legends in the prime, was a pioneer of shooting personal, candid shots and
building trusting relationships with them. He recently mentioned in one of his
last interviews that gaining his subject’s trust was vital to seeing beyond the
stage presence and gaining that insight into who the artist really was.
Although you may not know his name, you probably grew up seeing his work: The
Beatles at their last live concert at Candlestick Park,
an angry Johnny Cash flipping off the camera, Jimi Hendrix playing pyro with
his guitar onstage, Janis Joplin and her little bottle of Southern Comfort.
His camera captured personal
moments with the Rolling Stones, John Coltrane, Ray Charles, The Grateful Dead,
The Doors and behind the scenes at Woodstock.
also known for being a bit cantankerous, for his taste for whiskey and love of
guns. He frequently carried a concealed sidearm with him. He was always
generous with his time and advice to novice photographers and was deeply
respected by all that knew and worked with him. He was considered by most to be
the God of Rock Photography, his style and ability to share intimate
impressions of the famous, was often copied, but never quite achieved. His
vision through a camera lens was a unique and gifted one.
Quite a few years ago, we were
invited to a house party by long-time friend Ken Light, a professor at U. C.
Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, where we were introduced to Mr.
Marshall. My wife and I brought along a friend, and we all later gravitated out
to the front porch, so they could smoke, where we were soon joined by Jim, who
also needed a smoke. We spent most of that evening hanging on his every word,
sitting on the front steps, partly because he found my female companions
attractive. I avoided asking about his work, as most people don’t want to talk
shop at social gatherings, so we mostly talked about political stuff. Marshall was very opinionated, especially about U.S. involvement in Iraq, and thought that we should be
over there kicking their asses. He wasn’t someone that you felt comfortable
disagreeing with, so we got a real ear-full of his rather intense take on such
matters. He wasn’t what could be called “politically correct.” My friend Ken
later commented that we had latched onto the most famous person at his party.
Marshall recently published the 5th collection of his work, Trust last
year (reviewed here at BLURT) and just released Match Prints, which he did in conjunction with photographers Michael Zagaris and Timothy White. He
had just been in New York
celebrating the release of that book. Despite his gruff persona, he was known
for his generosity, like donating his works for fund raising at charitable
causes and taking in stray animals and giving them a home.