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Jim Marshall dies; rock-and-roll photographer shot hundreds of album covers

By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2010; B05

Jim Marshall, 74, a notoriously abrasive photographer who helped establish rock-and-roll's public image with his intimate and iconic portraits of Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and other performers in the 1960s and '70s, was found dead March 24 at a hotel in New York. The cause of death was not immediately known.

A resident of San Francisco, Mr. Marshall was in New York to promote a new book and apparently died in his sleep, said Henry Diltz, whose Morrison Hotel Gallery represents the photographer's work.

Mr. Marshall, who shot hundreds of album covers and worked for major publications, was most renowned for his candid, mostly black-and-white shots of musical celebrities. He captured them in unguarded moments onstage, backstage and offstage, creating images that revealed larger-than-life superstars in unrehearsed vulnerability or exaltation.

"He was quick and relentless, wading in with his quiet little Leica and capturing the essence of the person and the moment," said Diltz, who is also a music photographer. "He was the guru of us all."

Mr. Marshall's best-known images included Hendrix setting his guitar aflame at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 and Janis Joplin in 1968, sprawled on a couch backstage with a bottle of Southern Comfort and appearing, at the height of her fame, to be as lost and lonely as a little girl.

"Some people said I shouldn't have published that picture," Mr. Marshall said in 2005. "But Janis said, 'Hey, that's a great shot because it's how it is sometimes. Lousy.' "

In 1969, he captured Cash before his performance at San Quentin Prison, aiming his middle finger at the lens. "I said to him, Johnny, let's do a shot for the warden," Mr. Marshall once recalled. "I guess flipping the bird was his natural response."

Mr. Marshall refused to give stage directions and preferred to shoot with available light. His only requirement was non-negotiable: unfettered access to his subjects, a condition he considered essential for the documentary style he favored.

He balked when entertainer Barbra Streisand attempted to set limits during a shoot. He said he wound up swearing at Streisand, who was aghast, and then walking out.

Despite his impatience and curmudgeonliness, Mr. Marshall befriended many of the people who agreed to his terms. In 1966, he was the only photographer allowed backstage at San Francisco's Candlestick Park at what turned out to be one of the Beatles' last full-scale public performances.

He was an official photographer at the 1969 Woodstock rock festival, covered Crosby, Stills and Nash's first recording session, and documented the Rolling Stones' 1972 tour for Life magazine.

James Joseph Marshall was born in Chicago on Feb. 3, 1936, and grew up in San Francisco. While he carted around a Kodak Brownie as a kid, it was not until junior high, when a photographer snapped a clear shot of him crossing the finish line at the end of a footrace, that Mr. Marshall became mesmerized by the art form.

Returning from Air Force service, he worked as an insurance claims adjuster until a chance meeting around 1960 with the jazz saxophonist John Coltrane in San Francisco launched his photography career.

"He asked me for directions to a club," Mr. Marshall said in 2004. "I told him I'd pick him up and take him there if he'd let me take his picture."

He hung out at North Beach jazz clubs until moving to New York in 1962, where he lived in Greenwich Village just blocks from Dylan and Judy Collins. In 1963, he was on his way to breakfast with Dylan when he snapped a memorable image of the enigmatic folk singer trailing after a car tire as it rolled down the street.

Mr. Marshall's career slumped in the 1970s and early 1980s, and his marriage dissolved. His fondness for drugs and guns led to run-ins with the law.

"I suffered from the arrogance of success," he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1997. "Cocaine made it even worse. I was not a pleasant person. I suppose there are some people who probably think I'm still not."

Mr. Marshall, who had no immediate survivors, revived his career slowly and worked over the years with younger bands, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and singer-songwriters Ben Harper and John Mayer.

In recent years, numerous galleries showed his work, and his pictures appeared in many books, including the one Mr. Marshall was promoting when he died, "Match Prints," with fellow photographer Timothy White.

Mr. Marshall's archive also includes portraits of jazz and blues artists, including Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong. He photographed pianist and composer Thelonious Monk in his kitchen with the beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

"I'm basically a reporter with a camera," he told the Chronicle. "I don't manipulate. I don't contrive to make things seem other than how they are. I don't have a signature style.

"When you see one of my photos of, say, Merle Haggard, I want you to think, 'What a great shot of Merle Haggard,' not 'What a great Jim Marshall photograph.' "

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