A Look Inside ACL Live’s Jim Marshall Photography Exhibit
The Jack and Jim Gallery celebrates its 10th anniversary with era-defining artwork
Lead Image: Johnny Cash flipping the bird, San Quentin Prison CA 1969 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC.
It’s a funny thing, rock photography. Here in Austin, photos of musicians on stage are something of a backdrop everywhere we go: the sweat-streaked hair, the wide open mouths, the fingers mid-strum. Yeah, yeah, we think … another rock god — or, another marketing campaign / I-35 billboard / targeted Instagram ad, playing on our music sensibilities with the hottest young thing. Been there, done that. Nice try, national beer conglomerate!
But then … there’s Jim Marshall.
A self-taught photographer bopping around San Francisco, Jim bought his first camera in 1959, before there was such a thing as rock n’ roll. He went on to become one of rock’s most relied-upon documentarians, turning icons into humans with casual, compassionate portraiture. But his first subjects? The legends of jazz, blues and folk, whose images line the walls of The Jack and Jim Gallery, at ACL Live at Moody Theater.
“Muddy Waters backstage at some club in a small town near Chicago,” Jim’s inscription reads under one photo. “Columbia Records sent me there. Johnny Winter was producing a live album for him. I shot Muddy a lot before. He was a real gentleman and a very influential musician. Probably got cheated out of millions over the years, like a lot of the blues guys,” says Jim.
It’s the 10th Anniversary of The Jack and Jim Gallery, a longstanding collaboration between the theater and Jack Daniel’s. And in both his photos and his words, you get a sense of the intimacy Jim enjoyed with the musicians he shot, snapping carefully while carrying on a conversation. Maybe it’s because he never left home without a camera, treating it more or less as an extension of his body.
“Jim wasn’t lugging around lighting equipment; he only used what was available to him,” says Amelia Davis, Jim’s assistant for the last 14 years, and executive producer of the new documentary, Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall, now available for streaming on Apple TV.
“Musicians forgot the camera was there, and they knew he would never publish or release a compromising photo of them,” says Amelia. “There was a real trust there, because Jim treated them like people. He could get starstruck, of course — he was starstruck around Miles Davis. But his relationship to fame was an interesting one, because he very quickly learned how to treat stars like people.”
On that note, let’s talk about Miles Davis.
One of Jim’s first big photography subjects was John Coltrane, who in the early 60s, was looking for a ride to Berkeley out of San Francisco. By chance and circumstance, Jim offered to drive him — and then, proceeded to take a slew of photos of the interview itself. John loved them, a bond was formed, and Jim very quickly established himself on the west coast as a go-to music photographer. But then … not all musicians are so forthcoming.
“Jim was intimidated by Miles Davis, and tried to work up the courage to talk to him,” Amelia chuckles. “One night after a show, Jim called to him and said, ‘Hey Miles, why do you have a green trumpet?’ And Miles Davis yelled back, ‘Hey motherf*cker, I didn’t ask you why you had a black camera.’”
The relationship was off to a rocky start. But Jim, who according to Amelia always felt like an outsider — he was poor, and came from an immigrant family — gravitated toward underdogs. In the early 60s, that was black musicians, and Jim wanted to use his camera to elevate their work. (Miles, by the way, eventually relented — only after seeing Jim’s beautiful portraiture of Miles’ own idol, John Coltrane.)
In 1962, Jim moved to New York to establish himself, a venture that proved successful: seven years later, he was Woodstock’s chief photographer. But despite his success shooting live shows — he was Life Magazine’s official photographer for the Rolling Stones in 1972, and The Beatles’ photographer for their final show in Candlestick Park — it was the backstage, after-show moments that he especially loved. Moments we can see, too.
“My favorite photo from the current collection is probably the infamous one of Johnny Cash, flipping the bird at San Quentin Prison,” says Happy Mercado, Director of Brand Partnerships at ACL Live at Moody Theater.
“The story is that Jim asked Johnny to take a photo for the warden, and that’s how Johnny reacted. But in a previous collection, my favorite is a large color photograph of Janis Joplin perched on top of her psychedelic painted Porsche 356C. The vivid colors of her car and the emotion in her face will forever bring a smile to my face.”
Currently, The Jack and Jim Gallery has a virtual gallery available to the public, until the theater’s full gallery update coming 2022. But even there, you can see Jim’s tenderness toward his subjects — like in a particularly warm photo of Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Gerald Wilson during the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival.
“In the 1950s, when the Civil Rights movement was heating up, Dizzy served as an official ambassador for the U.S. State Department,” Jim writes. “He toured the world showcasing jazz, America and humanity. Look at the two buttons on Dizzy’s coat: one stands for equality, and the other is Freedom Now, which was the cry of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) during the 1960s Civil Rights movement. During the 1964 presidential campaign, Gillespie put himself forward as an independent write-in candidate.”
It’s inscriptions like these that belie Jim’s admiration for the artists he shot. Artists that, to the world, seemed larger than life. But for Jim, who made you — the viewer — feel like you were part of the photograph itself, he aimed to capture artists in a different way. As shy. As confident. As kind. As circumspect.
In other words, as life-like.