SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — A new documentary screening this month at the San Francisco International Film Festival features a closeup look at an infamous Bay Area photographer.
The late Jim Marshall was famous in saying he liked cars, guns and cameras. The guns and cars got him into trouble. The camera made him a legend.
The San Francisco photographer captured some of the most iconic images in rock ‘n’ roll in the 60s and 70s: Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival; Janis Joplin backstage with a bottle of Southern Comfort at Winterland; Bob Dylan kicking a tire down the road in Greenwich Village; the Allman Brothers in Macon. Georgia; Jim Morrison locking eyes with the camera and taking a drag on a cigarette; the Beatles’ at their historic last concert in Candlestick Park.
A KPIX reporter spoke to Marshall in 1991 about the Candlestick Park concert. He was hand-picked as the only still photographer allowed and had exclusive access backstage.
“These pictures, no one knew, least of all me. I sure as hell didn’t know it was the last concert.” Marshall said.
A new documentary called “Show Me The Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall,” directed by Alfred George Bailey, turns the lens on the photographer.
“You think you knew Jim but you didn’t,” said Amelia Davis, who was Marshall’s longtime personal assistant.
Davis inherited the photographer’s entire estate and she has managed his photo archive since he died of natural causes in New York during a speaking engagement at age 74.
Davis said the photo archive is massive and full of historic images. She described how there are over one million images in black and white alone. Some are seen in the film and they are revealing.
“Jim is known as this drugged-out, gun-toting, crazy photographer but when you take a look at his entire body of work, you see that that is just not true,” Davis said.
The film portrays Jim as a photojournalist not a celebrity photographer.
“He had a curious eye. He was always looking to see what was happening,” said Davis.
Marshall kept his Leica around his neck and preferred to show his subjects in natural light and natural settings.
On Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Marshall was in New York.
He ended up at Rockefeller Center and snapped photographs of people as they reacted to the news of Kennedy’s death.
“They are some of his most powerful photos, I think, some of the most powerful images that he’s taken — just to see the shock and sadness of people finding out for the first time JFK had been assassinated,” Davis said.
Marshall also documented the poverty of Appalachia for a national magazine.
He traveled to Hazard, Kentucky where he lived with a coal-mining family for months. Marshall befriended them and they grew to trust him.
“He really photographed them in a way that gave humanity to these people. He didn’t feel sorry for them. He was showing they were very proud and they were human,” said Davis.
But when Marshall read the reporter’s account that was supposed to accompany his photos, he grew angry and pulled his permission to print the pictures. He explained how the reporter never came to Hazard and had no idea what these families were going through or what they were all about. He felt the article was condescending and disrespectful.
“He said ‘I will not allow my photographs to be shown that way,'” said Davis.
Marshall ended up giving his Hazard, Kentucky photographs for free to a publication called “Jubilee,” which belonged to the Catholic Church. They were published and, today, these photographs are part of the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection.
But don’t get the impression that Jim Marshall was an angel. He was far from perfect.
“You either loved him or hated him; he loved you or hated you,” laughed Davis.
Marshall had an unpredictable temper, two broken marriages and a serious dependency on drugs and alcohol. He got into trouble with the law.
But he always saw humanity in those whom he photographed, such as jazz musician John Coltrane or his lifelong friend, Johnny Cash.
Marshall was born in Chicago, loved car races and said “I have no kids. My photographs are my children.”
In 2014, he was posthumously given a Trustees Award Grammy at the 56th Grammy Awards, the first and only photographer to receive a Grammy.
In commemoration of the special showings of this documentary, the S.F. Art Exchange will display some of the photographs seen in the film. A special private reception will be held Friday, April 19, but will be open to the public beginning on Saturday the 20th.
A special commemorative book containing essays from Marshall’s friends and colleagues is also available through Chronicle Books and it can be preordered.
Chronicle Books: Jim Marshall: Show Me The Picture