Introducing the BuzzFeed News newsletter JPG — this weekly newsletter will feature the most powerful images from around the internet, as well as behind-the-scenes exclusives from renowned photographers and our hard-hitting photo stories.
Few photographers have had a life and career as historic as Jim Marshall. His pictures not only capture some of the most influential artists of the 20th century but also established a new level of intimacy in the relationship between entertainers and the photojournalists documenting them.
Some of the most iconic pictures ever made of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan, to name a few, were captured through Marshall's camera lens. His ability to level these larger-than-life musicians as normal human beings, coupled with his uncanny knack to find himself at the right place at the right time, established him as one of the era's most sought-after music photographers. Whether it was the legendary Miles Davis or simply the neighborhood children playing stickball in the street, Marshall was able to capture the moment with striking humanity.
Marshall died in 2010 at the age of 74, leaving his entire archive of millions of photographs and negatives to his personal assistant of many years, Amelia Davis. This year, a new documentary about his life and the accompanying book, Jim Marshall: Show Me the Picture, chronicle the photographer's journey through some of the most influential cultural events of the 20th century.
Here, Amelia Davis speaks with BuzzFeed News about Marshall's legacy and share with us some of his most iconic pictures.
Where did Jim Marshall's career begin and how did he gain access to so many influential people?
Amelia Davis: Jim bought his first Leica camera in 1959. At that time in San Francisco, North Beach was a happening spot for the Beat generation to listen to jazz. Jim would wander down there and just begin taking pictures, capturing incredible jazz greats like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. From there, Jim moved to New York in 1962 and began shooting a huge amount of street photography, but also gained access to the city’s jazz greats through his relationship with John Coltrane.
When he returned to San Francisco at the end of ‘64, the whole rock 'n' roll counterculture movement was in full swing at Haight-Ashbury, and he was able to capture all of that. He really had a passion for documenting these pieces of history that were happening around him and believed that he was preserving them for future generations.
That’s what makes Jim stand out among many of the music photographers of that era. A lot of those other photographers were there to just capture the band — so let’s say that Jimi Hendrix was hosting a free concert at the Panhandle, the photographer would get the shot, and when the show was over, they’d leave. For Jim, when the concert was over, he just kept photographing. He would follow the crowds and the artists into the streets and into the neighborhoods.
Can you talk a bit about Jim's personality? What was it that made him so likable to these artists?
AD: Jim was a contradiction, for sure. You either loved him or hated him and there was no in-between. And Jim felt the same way about everyone else too. People used to say that if Jim liked you, he’d gladly lay down his life to save you from an oncoming truck — but if he didn’t like you, he’d be the one driving the truck!
When it came to photography, he took it very serious and was an expert. He was entirely self-taught but so good at it that he never had to fuss around with light meters and equipment. He would go into a situation, know what to set his camera to, and immediately get the photograph. When you look at one of his pictures, you never feel like a voyeur either — you feel like a participant.
That's the magic of Jim, and that’s why these musicians, politicians, celebrities, and even everyday people felt very comfortable around Jim. They knew that Jim would take an amazing photograph of them — and not just of them as these huge heroes on stage, but also the quiet moments after the concert was over. He was capable of portraying the human part of them as well.
That’s why they allowed him in and trusted him — and he never betrayed that trust either. Because, you know, if you have that access as a photographer, you’re going to eventually get them in compromising situations. Jim would never show any of that to the public and they knew he’d never betray their trust.
How large is the archive that Jim left to you?
AD: It’s quite a massive archive — he was photographing for 50 years. It wasn’t just music photography either — it was civil rights, it was poverty in America, it was protests. Just in 35mm black and white alone there’s over a million images, and that’s not even including the color or the medium format images.
Sometimes I feel like an archeologist on a dig. I discover new images every day. I think to myself, God, Jim — why didn’t you show these?
What do you hope that people will continue to see in Jim's photographs?
AD: We’re at a point right now where we’re looking back at all of these historical and important moments 50 years later, but a lot of them are still very, very relevant today. That’s why it’s so important for us to get those images out there for people to see and be inspired by. I want people to be able to look back in history to these incredible moments that Jim captured and feel inspired to make a difference by recording the world around you and telling your story through pictures.
It doesn’t matter what the subject is — whether it’s music or political protest. Just be inspired to tell a story through your images. Photography is a powerful medium that can convey such powerful emotions and feelings. I think that’s something that’s so very important, especially today.