Trust: Photographs of Jim Marshall

January 01, 1970

(Vision On/Omnibus)

 

www.omnibuspress.com

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

The title, we learn in the introduction, is instructive.
“Without trust between the subject and myself,” legendary photographer Jim
Marshall writes, “I couldn’t work the way I did and still do. I have to have
total access, be allowed where I want, when I want, and do my thing the way I
do.”

 

You know Marshall’s work: iconic images of Jimi Hendrix and
Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop festival; LP sleeves for Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison, The
Allman Brothers At Fillmore East
and the first Moby Grape album (the
classic photo of Johnny Cash flipping the bird at the camera is also Marshall);
photos both onstage and off- of the Rolling Stones from their ’72 American tour
(particularly if you’re old enough to remember Life magazine, which put one of Marshall’s shots of Jagger on the
cover); some of the most penetrating portraits ever taken of Miles Davis –
former president Bill Clinton owns a 
print of Miles backstage at the 1970 
Isle Of Wight Festival, resplendent in crimson shirt and silver-studded
jeans and staring off into space while clutching his horn.

 

The 166-page, coffeetable-sized Trust: Photographs of Jim Marshall chronicles a life in music
photography, in particular illuminating that total access Marshall was lucky enough to be granted (or
insist upon, take your pick). The photos aren’t arranged chronologically or
thematically, but merely according to what was satisfying to Marshall himself; for
most of them he adds brief anecdotal or explanatory text. Some are live,
capturing his subjects in full flight – the aforementioned Jagger, Redding and
Hendrix photos, a pair of Janis Joplin images depicting her framed against an
astonishingly bright blue sky, a multiple-exposure take of jazz great Rashaan
Roland Kirk for the Bright Moments album cover, a black-and-white shot of BB King at the Fillmore West in ’68
whose uncharacteristically grainy and blurred-action quality is what lends it
authenticity (King has just thrust his arms wide and Marshall captured the
motion of his hands and guitar headstock). And some were specifically posed for
some project or assignment, such as a backstage shot of Dr. John in full voodoo-shaman
regalia, the Grateful Dead in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park forming a circle
and staring down at the camera, and more contemporary photos of Velvet
Revolver, John Mayer, and (ahem) Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst.

 

It’s the candid, unscripted portraits, however, that form
the heart and soul of this wonderful volume; they’re indicative of what
photographers mean when they say they try to capture the essence of their
subjects. Three here in particular stand out to this longtime lover of music
photography:

 

 

  • A
    black-and-white shot of Miles Davis at a San Francisco gym, interrupted in the
    middle of a workout and talking intently on a pay phone – clutching the
    receiver while still wearing his boxing gloves.
  • John
    Coltrane looking pensive while standing in the back yard of his Queens
    home, illuminated from behind with what appears to be late afternoon
    sunlight; the photo shoot was for an album, but a different image was
    ultimately selected, and this particular one evokes that “what is he
    thinking about?” feeling in the viewer.
  • Frank
    Zappa (also color), sitting up in bed in the morning sun, shirtless with
    mussed hair, a quizzical smile on his face; Marshall’s note indicates that
    he’d made Zappa sit up long enough to take a couple of shots, then the
    musician went back to sleep. Talk about trust. It’s not particularly composed other than to ensure the
    natural lighting was good, and its charm comes from the very fact that you
    realize it is indeed spontaneous and totally candid; I don’t know if I’ve
    ever seen a picture depicting Zappa with that exact type of smile.

 

 

 

Marshall,
whose first album cover was for a Horace Silver LP (Prestige Records paid him
the princely sum of $75), indirectly summarizes his experience in his
introduction:

 

“I had the trust of
the artist, I would work with them, and they knew I wouldn’t fuck around or do
anything they didn’t like… No one I’ve shot, not Dylan, not Miles, not Cash,
has ever complained about how my pictures of them have been used.”

 

One can’t help wondering whether that long, rich journey Marshall traveled would
have been a different one in another era, one marked by the elbowing, intrusive
antics of paparazzi and a corresponding lack of trust from the artists. In their heyday, Marshall and his peers –
virtuoso lensmen and lenswomen like Baron Wolman, David Gahr, Annie Liebowitz,
Ethan Russell, Elliott Landy, etc. – unquestionably broke new ground. Some
would say they broke the molds, too.

 

 

Many of Marshall’s classic images
can be viewed (and purchased) at his official MarshallPhoto.com site.

 

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