Two new books by San Francisco photographer Jim Marshall intensify the love of music
Marshall's photography is 2010 enough to be lodged in the White House at the moment. President Obama has a Marshall shot of John Coltrane (also within Trust) on the wall. "He [Obama] had a White House photographer take a picture of him reflected in the [frame's] glass," Marshall explains with pride. "He signed it, 'To Jim — I'm a big fan of your work ... and Coltrane!" A little later, back at Marshall's apartment, I look at this photo, and think of Obama's image and trust. In deed, is the President doing right by the artists?
At lunch, Marshall zooms in on a telling moment from Obama's recent State of the Union address. "He said, 'This administration this year will end discrimination against gays in the military.' The camera was on four generals and admirals in front of Obama. The whole place stood up and applauded. Those motherfuckers didn't blink, didn't move — nothing. They just sat there stone-faced. That's the last thing they wanted to hear."
The trust recorded in Trust is a different kind of commitment than one offered by a political figure. The photo of Coltrane — itself reflective, a bit melancholy, even haunted — that Obama sees himself within is a chief example. "Miles [Davis] saw my pictures of Coltrane and saw that John trusted me, and that was good enough for Miles," Marshall explains, after I tell him about a great Davis interview in which he proclaimed that his favorite thing to do was watch white people act stupid on TV. "Miles, he didn't like white people a whole lot. But for some reason he liked me. He said, 'You're as crazy as me.'" The truth is, in America, then and now, that's as good a reason as any to like someone.
Truth is another strong element of Trust. Marshall's investment in emotional truth means that his opinions aren't always orthodox. Trust contains some photos of the infamous 1972 Rolling Stones American tour — "I must have done two pounds of blow on that tour," Marshall crows — also documented by Robert Frank in the movie Cocksucker Blues. "I was never a big Robert Frank fan, and I'll tell you why," Marshall says, with trademark intimate candor. "As good as [Frank's classic 1958 monograph] The Americans is — and it's one of the all-time great photo books, damn near as great as [1955's] Family of Man — what Frank failed to do is this: he didn't show in one picture, as far as I can remember, the joy of being an American. It's cynical. That bothers the shit out of me."
As much as Frank, Marshall is a primary documentarian of 20th century America, well aware of a time when great filmmakers and photographers had enough faith in the government to work for it. "I had a Baby Brownie [camera] when I was a kid," he says, when asked how he found his calling. "Everything was blurry — you had to take the picture when the sun was at your back. But I won a track meet, the 50 yard dash, and a guy was taking pictures for the school. He had an early Leica. When we go back to my apartment I'll show you my scrapbook — it has pictures of cameras cut out of magazines and pasted on the paper, with their prices written in pencil. He took a picture of me that was razor sharp, and I thought, 'This guy has a magic box.'"