Whiskey in hand, I toast my dear friend and San Francisco’s legendary rock photographer Jim Marshall, who died in his sleep in New York City last night, on the eve of his next gallery opening. He was 74.
Chronicle has had a long and storied relationship with Jim, beginning with the publication of Monterey Pop in 1992, through Proof (2004), Jazz (2005) Collection: Jim Marshall Proof and Jazz (2007) and the stunning Proof Limited Edition (2009) which included a signed, numbered print of Jerry Garcia at Woodstock. Nine of Jim’s photographs were also featured in Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographs Selected by Graham Nash (2009).
Jim met with my colleagues recently to review the test proofs and cover design of his latest Chronicle book, Pocket Cash—he always had approval over the design of his books, a tough thing to negotiate but negotiation was something Jim was really good at—you did it his way, or you didn’t do it. End of story. Ask anyone who illegally used his photograph of Cash flipping the bird.
While I am bereft at this loss to the world of photography, music, and publishing, not to mention the personal void that no-one will ever fill for his shoes are far too big, I smile knowing that on what has become the last book we did together he had it his way—overseeing every step of the process, pushing to get it right.
Jim was in Seattle for the opening of the Taking Aim exhibit in February of this year. Other photographers were thrilled to meet him, to reconcile the legend with the man. And he didn’t disappoint. Jim is frequently referred to as the greatest rock photographers of his generation; what I learned in the brief two years I spent with him is that he was not just one of the greatest rock photographers—he was one of the greatest photographers, period. His bookshelf included publications by Diane Arbus, David Douglas Duncan, Bruce Davidson and Robert Frank, his contemporaries, along with the books of many other photographers dedicated to music as a genre. The essence of a powerful photograph is present in every one of his iconic images, whether you’re a fan of the subject or not. The compositions are elegant; he came in close, and he stayed there, because he had the trust of the people he worked with, and he had unlimited access to every aspect of their lives.
I am defaulting to an analysis of his work because I can’t quite process that my friend, who swore at me frequently and told me he loved me just as often, who hated onions with a passion that almost rivaled how much he loved pretty women, who was rarely seen without his camera and was tickled by his first digital Leica, engraved with his signature (only one in the world, he told me), is gone. He has said that his photographs are his children, and I believe that to be true. In which case, he will live on, forever, in the remarkable work he leaves behind. And in the stories—funny, unbelievable, heartfelt—from those of us who loved him.
From all of us at Chronicle, here’s to you, Jim—we’ll never forget you.
Michelle Dunn Marsh