Jim Marshall not only shot some of the most iconic moments of the ’60s and ’70s music scene, he was the photographer who actually made them iconic: That picture of Jimi Hendrix kneeling before his flaming guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival? That was Marshall. Johnny Cash flipping the bird at San Quentin? He was looking straight into Marshall’s Leica. Jerry Garcia plopped on the ground next to a “Dead End” sign at Woodstock? Yep, Marshall.
A few books about Marshall’s work have come out since his death nearly a decade ago, but the newest, Show Me the Picture, is a revelation. For starters, of the book’s 284 pictures, 70 have never been published before. In one, Marshall seats us at a cozy Greenwich Village cafe with a possibly-too-young-to-shave Bob Dylan as he meditates on a cup of coffee; in another, we’re in the front row as Led Zeppelin thunders from a Los Angeles stage.
But of the never-published pictures, the true treasures aren’t about music at all. Significantly, the book includes Marshall’s street photography and civil rights-era documentary work from the early ’60s—often riveting pictures that show the 27-year-old Marshall’s pinpoint eye for detail as well as his range as a shooter. We learn, for instance, that he’s a far wittier photographer than we knew from his more celebrated pictures of rock royalty: He catches a young couple embracing romantically on a New York street corner but the scale next to them reads “Weigh Your Fate” while behind them a sign for the Village Paint Shop —with the “t” missing—tells us what they’re actually in for. He’s also more political: Marshall captured civil rights icons John Lewis and Bayard Rustin at a trial run for the March on Washington; there’s also a haunting proof-sheet shot of African American women training to help people register to vote in 1963 Mississippi.
The political and humanitarian images thrill not only because they’re flat-out exquisite pictures of a pivotal time in American history but also because they reveal a side of the photographer we’ve never seen before: Marshall, famous for his insider status with the biggest musicians of the day, actually felt like an outsider. “Jim grew up in an immigrant family,” Amelia Davis, the book’s author and Marshall’s self-described archivist-assistant-consigliere told Blind. “He scrapped and fought to be respected and seen, and in this early work, he photographed people who were also outsiders, people who didn’t fit in.” These pictures, she says, “are a reflection of how he felt in the world.”
Within a couple years, of course, Marshall became the ultimate rock-and-roll insider with access that was literally unparalleled: He was the only photographer allowed backstage at the Beatles final paid show (at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966), one of a very few allowed backstage at Woodstock in 1969, and the photographer Life magazine selected to shadow the Rolling Stones on parts of their 1972 tour. His pictures of Coltrane (alone and lost in thought) and Johnny Cash (with June Carter Cash, eyes closed and head on Johnny’s chest) show us how comfortable musicians were letting him into their often helter-skelter worlds.
Today, now that performers are brands with small armies of PR types paid to protect them, the kind of intimate photographs Marshall is known for—his 1968 images of a backstage Janis Joplin glued to a bottle of Southern Comfort, for instance—don’t get made any more. And so Show Me the Picture is not just a sparkling look back at the work of a legendary photographer, it’s a reminder of the kind of a relationship a photographer can have with a subject, and of the magic they can make together. It’s a reminder that the kind of pictures Jim Marshall made aren’t likely to be seen again.
By Bill Shapiro
Bill Shapiro is the former editor-in-chief of Life magazine and the co-author of the
recently published book “What We Keep.”
By Amelia Davis
Chronicle Books, 288 pp