The photography world has progressed tremendously, particularly in entertainment. This was due to the work and ambition of Jim Marshall. More of this creativity is shown in the recent film Show Me the Picture: The Jim Marshall Story directed by Alfred George Bailey and produced with Amelia Davis. This film explores the life and self-taught strategies of Marshall when he photographed icons like Jimi Hendrix, Nick Jagger, and more.
ATM: How would you explain Jim Marshall as a creative, visionary, and genius when it came to photography?
Amelia: The unique thing about Jim is him being self-taught. He did not go to school for photography. In 1959, he brought his first camera. He went down to North Station, San Francisco. This was the jazz hot spot. He just started taking pictures. He taught himself through trial and error. So, what worked and what did not work. I think what made him a genius was he was self-taught and did what worked, it was second nature. It was like an extension of himself. He knew if he was in a certain setting of a certain light form where to set it at, so when the film was developed it would be perfect and you do not have to do anything to it. Today, we do not see this, and it does not happen.
Everyone has social media and an iPhone. They will take a photo and put it into photoshop to manipulate it to make it. There was none of this when Jim was around. Also, he photography was very in the moment. You felt like you were there, and this is unique. Again, today you cannot do this because there is no do over. When you have is what you get. Jim really documented pieces of history that will never happen again. This is what made him a genius.
Alfred: It is very interesting how Jim framed his pieces of work like documentaries. Like someone who was an undercover reporter or even like a war journalist. He showed the gritty, sad, depressed, and joyous. Not just on stage, but a lot of the photos I loved that Jim took were pictures behind the stage when the artists are their down stage. Now it is frown upon today because they want to be private. These are the moments the audience sees the artists as a real person and not as a manufactured plastic. Jim was one of the few of his era that had the trust of the artist to be able to photograph in these intimate moments.
Amelia: They trusted him to go in his private world and know he would never betray the trust. This is mostly what made him unique. He was able to take the situations that a lot of people would not get. They are not allowed into this world.
ATM: What can you observe about how he used the shutter speed to capture the blurriness when photographing the artists?
Amellia: Jim used thick lens. His favorite lens were 35 mm, 28 mm, and a 15 mm. This forced him to get in close to the subject. So, he has to be right there with them to take the photograph. He set it at a specific aperture setting with the speed. He knows how many feet he could be a way from a subject and it would still be in focus. He just knew this in a split second. This is a skill and knowing your equipment and there is no do over.
Alfred: Having your lens wide up takes on a very filmic look. Most cameras today want everything sharp, but you lose the humanity of the picture when it is to sharp and perfect. Whereas, Jim photographs Nick Jagger right as he is in the chamber getting ready, hanging out, and groupies are around. He has a 28 or 25 mm right up in someone’s face. They do not care because they have been around him for so long. You literally inside of the world Jim is working around. He did not most of the time.
Amelia: This is what set up a part. He would be very close. This was his style, and everyone knew it they just thought he was there. He cashed in on those very intimate moments. It was always in sharp and in focus. The musicians knew if Jim was there taking their photograph, then there never going to be a bad photo of them
ATM: So, it seems like he played with the elements related to the depth of field. This is very prominent in photography, which shows the elements of the furthest and the nearest objects while shooting.
So, what stories are being told when he shot up close and when he shot far back, basically using the depth of field?
Alfred: Jim loved his 50 mm. This film was made using Jim’s lens from this period.
Amelia: We looked through Jim’s eyes to film the documentary. Artistically, he used the depth of field to concentrate on one person. The person who would be completely in focus and the rest would be in soft focus. He knew if he wanted to concentrate on someone, he did it. If an artist was performing and he wanted to get everyone in, then this is how he chose his depth of field. He was up to Jim antically. The depth is what he tried put an emphasis on with a musician or the whole band.
ATM: How did Jim Marshall use the ISO element, which is the image sensory, showing the sensitivity of the images, in having an attention to detail?
Alfred: Wow. There is no technical answer for it. We cannot give you a technical answer for it. He used it very well. Either you have or you do not have it at all. In terms of what you are asking, sometimes you can see the shot before you take it. He desperately had this. He would know the answers and reactions very well.
Amelia: He always used Triumph 400 mm. He knew while taking a shot if he had to push or pull when developing it. Again, you cannot teach this. It is something you just know because you have done it so much. For Jim, it was second nature.
Alfred: A lot of photographers were taking pictures, but Jim understood the mechanics of it because he was interested in theatrical photography. If you are really good knowing what your equipment can do, then you are able to take a picture. The last thing you are thinking is, “Oh, I need to check my F Stop.” You do it like you are blinking or raising your arm or having a conversation with someone. It just becomes automatic and nature. I know what you are trying to ask, but the question is unanswerable unless Jim was around. He would say, “I do not know how I did it.”
ATM: How did the locations he shot at effect his aperture?
Alfred: If you are at a stadium where it is dark, then you have to open your aperture right open. You have to change the tone speed. Change it to 400 or 800. I am not quite sure if you could push it to 1600. It was a bigger limit.
Amelia: It did not have tripods. So, he knew he would have to push or pull to take it in focus. This is another thing people do not realize. He did not have a tripod. You could not have a tripod when Nick Jagger is jumping over your head. He handheld everything. He had to be steady when holding it. Again, then is something that natural to Jim.
ATM: Do you believe Jim was aware of how talented he was? And how his photography created a story?
Alfred: Great question.
Amelia: He did. He would always say, “My archive is second to none.” He was very rare. He was not an insecure man when it came to his photography. He knew he was the best when it came to documentary photography. He knew it and secure with the body of work he produced. He says the most. He documentary pieces of history. I am glad he did because the next generation today has the photographs in the past. It does not matter what the subject was: protesting, civil rights, peace sign on the street corner. Jim was there and he was documenting it. Future generations are lucky to him use this from them.
ATM: Would you agree that his confidence derived from the lengths of him being exploratory with his imagination?
Amelia: Yes. This is a great way to put it. He saw little things people would miss. He would find it fascinating and documented it. The peace symbol is an example. He would walk down the street and see a peace symbol scratched on the sidewalk. Most people walked by it and was not interesting. He would say, “Hey that is an interesting story.”
Alfred: He would frame in way that was almost like a painting. This is how he photographed the peace symbol. It was quite incredible but was just something someone else had missed. He would frame it.
Amelia: He created an important story, especially with the peace symbol. He would photograph knowing it would be an important story. You are absolutely right, he was confident enough. He was a visionary. He would see how things would affect people and tell a story.
Alfred: Amelia said in the film that, “Jim had a curious eye.” This is great way to put Jim. He also had a sensitive to see things and see things inside people and inside objects.
Amelia: You had some wonderful questions.