Rock photographer Jim Marshall’s life…
Jim Marshall defined rock music photography in the sixties and seventies. Armed with his trusty Leica he took some of the most enduring images of the rock greats history will ever record. A retrospective of his work commands respect and envy in equal measure, he was the right man in all of the right places at all the right times.
Consider this as your career path; your first break comes when John Coltrane asks you for a lift, you oblige on condition that you can take some photos of him. This leads to photographing the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival with Hendrix, The Who, Cream and Janis Joplin. A year later you photograph Johnny Cash…recording his landmark live ‘prison’ album. Life Magazine hire you to cover the Rolling Stones and in 1969 you’re backstage at Woodstock. When the Beatles play their final concert you’re the only photographer allowed backstage and all the while you’re photographing Jim Morrison, Santana, Grace Slick, Bob Dylan and every other major rock star on the planet. It simply does not get better than that.
Rock music photography is deserving of wider critical acclaim. Whilst we can envy Marshall for ‘being there’ we must still wonder if Marshall ever felt truly fulfilled by his images. Did he feel that his photographs were truly appreciated for their compositional qualities, the difficulties surrounding live concert photography as well as the unpredictability of his subjects? It’s a worthwhile question. The danger, one supposes is that for the majority, the image succeeds because of the subject, we, the consumer will readily swallow up images of Hendrix and Led Zeppelin regardless of quality simply because there is an unquenchable thirst for it.
For those of us on the outside we shall never know, perhaps he didn’t care? We know he possessed a strong personality which won him recognition in its own right, he was headstrong and driven, a man whose girlfriend was murdered by Charles Manson and associates, he never married or had any children and died of a heart attack in a hotel room in 2010 aged 74.
Marshall documented the rock life like no other, but then he lived it too. A serious cocaine addiction in the early 70s put his career on hold for a while and the death of his friend, Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers had a deep and lasting effect.
A fitting tribute would surely be a final question. Where would we be without the likes of Marshall and his photographs? In a world submerged in online images we should pause to remember the days of the elusive rock star. Would Eric Clapton have given us a daily ‘selfie’ a la Rhiannon? I doubt it. Marshall recorded a period of creativity in popular culture’s history which has no equal. Marshall, like his subjects was unique and we shall not see their like again.
Below: Carlos Santana at Woodstock, 1969. Copyright Jim Marshall.