Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall @ SXSW

Though I do think it is a rather cheesy saying, sometimes a picture can say a thousand words. Depends on the subject and the photographer. In this documentary we learn more about famous music photographer Jim Marshall than we knew before, which in my case was next to nothing. Most of us have seen his work without really knowing who took the photos. Those famous shots of Woodstock and the iconic one of Johnny Cash giving the finger during a down moment before one of his shows at Folsom Prison. The man certainly made his mark on the photographic and music worlds.

Director Alfred George Bailey (Gregory Porter: Don’t Forget Your Music) has used Marshall’s videos, stock video, interviews with people who were close to him like Peter Frampton, Amelia Davis, Michael Douglas, Anton Corbyn, Graham Nash, John Carter Cash, and Michelle Margetts and even the man himself to formulate his own type of picture of the man and the artist. As with most great artists the picture is not a simple one. Meaning you cannot possibly take everything in with one viewing. It takes multiple looks at it to really understand what Jim Marshall was all about.

Jim Marshall was born in Chicago in 1936. Grew up in San Francisco. His father was a drunk and his parents divorced when Jim was 10. His father died when he was 15. He was the child of immigrant parents who bought his first camera when he was in high school. After that it was said that he had a Leica always around his neck. It took just a few years for his talent and passion to be recognized and he was hired by Atlantic and Columbia Records at a young age. He could be described as a “difficult” man, meaning that he had a short temper and was often hard to get along with, but his genius as a photographer could not be denied.

Over the course of his career he became “the” rock photographer. While his photos were great much of what he was able to capture was due to the trust that musicians had in him. Marshall had a passion for music and, as such, would not let anything get in the way of cataloguing it. Was always honest with the people he worked with while not getting in the way of what they were doing. He had access that no one else was able to gain. His shots were not set up, rather he captured the rawness, power and passion of musicians at work.

Starting off he photographed jazz greats and then moved on to some of the greatest artists of the 60s and ever. He has taken photos of the likes of Miles Davis, Ray Charles, The Grateful Dead, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, The Allman Brothers, Santana, The Rolling Stones, and Guns ‘N Roses. Quite a roster! He attended all the great festivals and shows of the time like Woodstock, The Beatles last live show, Johnny Cash at San Quentin, and the Monterey Pop Festival.

Marshall is most famous for the shots he took of rock ‘n roll, but that is not the entire body of his work. He was a man who always had his camera around his neck, not wanting to miss documenting an important moment. As such, he also helped form a picture of important social movements or historic events in American history like the Vietnam War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Civil Rights movement. Not much that happened musically or socially in the 1960s was not captured by him. It was a time of change and he was right there, front and center.

Described by those who knew him as funny, wise, intense, sensitive, compassionate, open, and thoughtful, Marshall was also abrasive. Everyone who knew him has a Jim Marshall story. A man of contradictions. He loved beauty, but also was obsessed with guns. So much so that during the early 80s he was arrested on gun charges. During the 1960s he developed a drug habit that would plague him for decades. Beginning in the 80s he did not work that much as a result. Lost many of his friends and really isolated himself. He died in 2010 in New York City before he was to do a talk. Too bad as he was just beginning to learn of how people loved his work. In 2014, he was posthumously awarded a Grammy Trustees Award for his contribution to music.

This is only director Alfred George Bailey’s second film. He is rather inexperienced when it comes to that, but in regards to music and photography he is very knowledgeable. That is because he has a passion for music and he is a photographer himself. For more than three decades he has worked with musicians and inside the industry. Previously he was a jazz drummer and then moved on to taking photos of musicians. In other words, he is the perfect person to have directed this film. He knows of what he speaks/shows intimately and knows the value of Marshall’s work along with its impact.

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