Monday 21 August 2017

The man who took rock's most iconic images

Steven O'Rourke

Jim Marshall, the photographer responsible for some of rock music's most iconic images, died this week in New York aged 74.

Known for his hedonistic lifestyle, Marshall was often more colourful and unpredictable than the musicians he photographed.

"I've been busted a few times for drugs, guns, assault with a deadly weapon," he admitted in a recent documentary.

Having started his professional career in 1959, Marshall was given unprecedented access to some of rock's biggest stars, including the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles and the Who.

Born in Chicago in 1936 and raised in San Francisco, he purchased his first camera, a Leica M2, in high school and started documenting the artists and musicians in San Francisco's burgeoning beat scene.

After leaving school, Marshall worked as an insurance clerk. He had a chance encounter with John Coltrane when the jazz legend asked him for a lift. Coltrane returned the favour by letting him shoot nine rolls of film.

When he relocated to New York in 1962, Marshall captured the first of his many legendary rock pictures. While walking for breakfast with his neighbour Bob Dylan, he took a picture of the young musician rolling a tyre down a deserted New York street. In New York, Marshall was also hired by Atlantic and Columbia Records to capture their artists, including Ray Charles, at work in the studio.

It wasn't until he returned to San Francisco in the late 1960s that Marshall produced his most indelible work, taking hundreds of photographs of the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and Carlos Santana.

He took advantage of these San Francisco connections to become the sole photographer to accompany The Beatles on stage for their final gig on August 29, 1966, in Candlestick Park.

Between 1967 and 1972 he captured some of the most memorable images of the era, including shots of Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar alight at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Johnny Cash "flipping the bird" during his performance at San Quentin in 1969.

When this photograph was voted the seventh-most-iconic rock image of all time, Marshall recounted how the pose was struck: "What happened was I said 'Give me a message for the warden, Johnny,' and that's what he did. It was a joke, of course, but it's helped feed me ever since."

In 1972 Marshall spent five weeks chronicling the Rolling Stones as they toured America. He later referred to it as "the pharmaceutical tour".

Drugs played major part in Marshall's career, from being "dosed" with LSD by the Grateful Dead during Woodstock to a serious cocaine habit that threatened to derail his career in the mid-1970s.

Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine joked that this appetite for drugs was the secret to Marshall's success as it allowed him to stay up later than all the other photographers.

His ability to match their excesses endeared Marshall to the musicians he was capturing on film. The feeling was mutual.

"I love all these musicians -- they're like family," he said. "Looking back, I realise I was there at the beginning of something special, I'm like a historian. There's an honesty about this work that I'm proud of. It feels good to think, my God, I really captured something amazing."

However, he had little time for the demands of pampered stars and once abandoned a photoshoot with Barbra Streisand when she made too many demands. "If someone doesn't want me to shoot them, fine," he says. "But if they do, there can't be any restrictions."

Marshall continued to work right up to his death; taking photographs of modern musicians from John Mayer to Lenny Kravitz.

He had travelled from San Francisco to New York last week to attend an exhibition to coincide with the release of Match Prints, his fifth book.

He was found dead in his bed at the W Hotel in New York. No immediate family members survive but his iconic images will remain.

"I have no kids," Marshall once said. "My photographs are my children."

Irish Independent

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