Art + Design

Whiskey in hand…

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
Senior Editor

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  • Nion McEvoy March 24, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I second my colleague Michelle Dunn Marsh’s feelings about the charming, irascible, roguish and loving Jim Marshall. Not only did he give us iconic images of some of the greatest musicians of the 20th Century–Hendrix, Miles, Coltrane, the Beatles, Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin–but he was a wonderful friend. His humanity, and his ability to see and show us the essential humanity in others, whether it was vulnerable, cocky, tragic or tough, is what made him the exceptional photographer he was. I was his editor for “Monterey Pop,” and we spoke often in the years that followed. It was great to spend time with him at the opening of the “Taking Aim” show at the Experience Music Project in Seattle recently. My last memory of him is of him in the bar at the Sorrento, kissing the attractive young photographer who had covered the opening, beaming about the heartfelt acclaim he was receiving and the books that would soon be published. Just as it should have been.


  • Alan Rapp March 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

    As Michelle and Nion intimate here, there was no neutral approach or halfway gestures with Jim Marshall. You had to go all in, and I feel lucky to have been able to do so.

    I was also extremely naïve when I told my superiors that I thought I could work with Jim as his editor. They may not have shared their level of skepticism with me directly, and I in turn really had no idea what I was about to get into.

    What I got into was watching a truly great photographer work with his most iconic images in a way that allowed the world to see them anew late in his career. His approach always avoided cliché, especially amazing with such subjects as the outsized musicians from a frequently lampooned counterculture era.

    Discussions could get heated, and I came to realize that if you were not threatened with bodily harm or a litigation by Jim, you weren’t doing your job. He would deploy such behavior almost with a wink, as central to his persona as his ever-within-reach Leica. It meant he trusted you, that he had effort on the table that required due regard.

    When we sequenced his jazz photos we cleared the conference table to spread out his prints. I quickly realized I was pretty much superfluous; he knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t intellectualize anything—he just moved around the table linking photos intuitively and rationally. He told stories about everyone in the photographs, people who to me were distant legends, but to him were often buddies.

    I thank you Jim for sharing your visual genius with me and my colleagues. I am proud to have helped remind the world what a great photographer you were, and introduce that work to younger generations. Hope you’ll have one on me.


  • Joel Selvin March 25, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Marshall’s book “Proof” says so much. He never took a bad shot. Everything is composed, focused, saying something. Some were better than others. To pull back the curtain and show the world every shutter-click is to truly stand naked as a photographer and, as I said in the introduction, something that Richard Avedon would never do. Jim was fearless as an artist and a human being. He loved with a breath-taking fierceness. When Jim Marshall was your friend, you had a friend for life. I will always miss him.


  • Michelle Dunn Marsh March 25, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Thank you to Jesse Diamond for usage of the photo he took of Jim and me at Cafe Loup in October, 2009


  • Jeff Kausch March 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks Michelle

    Jim was an APA SF Executive Board Member, was a close friend of many APA members, and was a central character in the Bay Area Photo Community for decades, so we are creating a special section on the Advertising Photographers of America, San Francisco blog to help honor him. Photographer Jock McDonald and Agent Norman Maslov are just two of Jim’s friends who have already contributed.

    If you have any stories, or photos of Jim, or relevant links to share, please email them to



  • SFMILLVALLEYEE March 29, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Does anyone know what brand of single malt that Jim drank? In the 2x I met him he’d offered it up to me each time and I partook. RIP Jim.


  • Lisa Johnson March 29, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    Wow, I found out about Jim passing just now while on the Chronicle website. I met Jim years ago while I was working as a Photographers Rep for Kodak in New York. Of course we drank scotch together on our first encounter…and every subsequent one too. I was already photographing celebrity guitars while at the same time working for Kodak and Jim graciously tried to help me with Bob Dylan. What a sweet and generous man. When he found out that Timothy White had given me two signed prints of The Boss playing his guitar, he insisted on giving me a signed print of his famous shot of Mick Jagger drinking Jack Daniels out of the bottle in his dressing room. What a treasure I have, first in having the honor of knowing Jim, second for the honor of being on the receiving end of his generosity and third for the image he gave me that I walk past every day in rememberence forever…Bottoms Up JM! OMMMMMM


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