Two new books by San Francisco photographer Jim Marshall intensify the love of music
VISUAL ART/MUSIC I'm walking with Jim Marshall from his apartment in the Castro to his favorite restaurant just around the corner. The T-shirt he's wearing showcases one of his more famous photos, of Johnny Cash flipping the bird. Marshall tells me and his friend and assistant of 13 years, Amelia Davis, about another time he was wearing the shirt. When the person he was with said he wanted one, he promptly took it off and gave it to him. We sit down at a table, I turn on my old tape recorder, and Marshall asks me for my first question. I say, "Well, it's not a question, but I guess the first thing I could observe about you is that you'll give someone the shirt off your back." He laughs.
This story, itself born from a story from Marshall, suits an article about him, because as the title of his one of his new books makes clear, a major foundation of his photography is trust. Almost every page of Trust: Photographs of Jim Marshall (Vision On, 165 pages, $34.95) illustrates the deep implicit bond between photographer and subject in Marshall's work, an element largely lacking from the prefab realm of music photography today. At times, this trust makes for startling juxtapositions: more than once Marshall's camera catches a singer — Mahalia Jackson at Carnegie Hall; BB King at the Fillmore West; Janis Joplin at an outdoor concert in San Jose; Big Mama Thornton in a San Francisco recording studio; Nina Simone at New York Town Hall; Big Joe Turner at Berkeley Folk Festival — wholly unguarded, with arms open wide. The gesture reflects Marshall's wholehearted embrace of music, an approach that makes his best images sing.
Marshall is a San Francisco photographer. "I was just starting out during the Beat era, in 1959, hanging out in North Beach," he says. "They called me Jaguar Jim because I had a Jag 120. I photographed at the Hungry Eye. Lenny Bruce was the first roll of color I ever shot — 10 frames. Fantasy Records called me up about 10 years ago and said, 'Jim, we've got some of your shots here.' I figured there was some Creedence [Clearwater Revival] stuff, or Otis Redding. But there were 10 slides [of Bruce] that had been stuck under a cabinet for 35 years." One of those 10 frames can be found in Match Prints (HarperCollins, 208 pages, $40), a just-published collaborative monograph that juxtaposes photos by Timothy White with photos by Marshall. In the shot, Bruce is standing before a brick wall, and he has his arms outstretched — almost like he's expecting to be arrested. He's on stage.
The back and forth between White's photos and Marshall's in Match Print — also on display at New York's Staley-Wise Gallery later this month — is partly a conversation between on-the-scene verité images and the carefully set designed studio shots that tend to dominate magazine profiles. But it's also about iconography and a memorable pose: Jim Morrison taking a drag from a cigarette for Marshall, Robert Mitchum inhaling (unlike Bill Clinton) for White. Match Prints has a casual sense of humor, evident in the pairing of Cash giving the finger with a White shot of Elizabeth Taylor flipping two birds after stepping out of a limo. (It's also made clear by Alice Cooper's playfully catty comments about his sister-in-leopard-skin-boots Lil' Kim.) But the lingering moments of the book, and ironically, the most contemporary visions, come from older black and white Marshall photos, such as one of a zaftig Mama Cass in the back of a car, or bouffant-and-eyeliner beauty Little Richard lost in thought. Cass's style and Richard's drag are very Bay Area rock n' roll 2010.