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Jim Marshall, Rock ’n’ Roll Photographer, Dies at 74

Published: March 24, 2010
Jim Marshall, a photographer whose images of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash and others in the 1960s and ’70s helped define their subjects as well as rock ’n’ roll photography itself, died overnight on Tuesday in a hotel in New York. He was 74.

His death was confirmed by Peter Blachley of the Morrison Hotel Gallery, which represents him in New York. The cause was not immediately known, but Mr. Blachley said that Mr. Marshall had died in his sleep.
Mr. Marshall, who lived in San Francisco, was in New York to promote “Match Prints,” his new book with his friend and fellow photographer Timothy White. They had been scheduled to appear at an event at the John Varvatos clothing store in SoHo on Wednesday evening. An exhibition of photographs from the book is to open on Friday at the Staley-Wise Gallery, also in SoHo.

In crisp photographs, shot mostly in black and white and with a stable of trusty Leica rangefinders, Mr. Marshall captured pop stars in their full onstage glory, as well as in unguarded offstage scenes that humanized them as approachable or vulnerable.

Among his most famous pictures are Hendrix setting his guitar aflame at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, which established Hendrix’s early reputation as a wild man; Cash angrily gesturing with his middle finger while at the San Quentin State Prison in 1969; a boyish Bob Dylan following a stray tire down a New York street in 1963; and Janis Joplin clutching a bottle of Southern Comfort backstage in 1968.

To get those pictures he insisted on extraordinary access, and usually got it. He was a favored portraitist for many of his subjects, who sometimes allowed him to follow them for days. He was the only photographer allowed backstage for the Beatles’ 1966 farewell concert in San Francisco, was at Woodstock in 1969, and shot the Rolling Stones’ 1972 tour on assignment for Life magazine.

Annie Leibovitz once called him “the rock ’n’ roll photographer.”
With an imposing figure and gruff, forceful personality, Mr. Marshall was something of a rock star himself, and musicians respected him as much for his pictures as for his dedication to getting them. Yet he saw his work largely in photojournalistic terms, capturing a natural scene instead of staging an artificial one.

“When I’m photographing people, I don’t like to give any direction,” he wrote in the introduction to his 1997 retrospective book, “Not Fade Away.” “There are no hair people fussing around, no make-up artists. I’m like a reporter, only with a camera; I react to my subject in their environment, and, if it’s going well, I get so immersed in it that I become one with the camera.”

Born in Chicago on Feb. 3, 1936, he moved with his family to San Francisco two years later. His father, a housepainter, left when he was a boy, and his mother worked in a laundry. As a child he enjoyed playing with his Kodak Brownie, but it was not until about 1960 that Mr. Marshall, equipped with his first Leica M2, found his calling through a chance encounter with John Coltrane. “He asked me for directions to a club,” he said in a 2004 interview. “I told him I’d pick him up and take him there if he’d let me take his picture.”

In addition to Coltrane, he shot Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and other jazz stars, but he is best known for his extensive catalog of 1960s and ’70s rockers, which includes most of the San Francisco psychedelic groups as well as Jim Morrison, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and the Allman Brothers Band.

In 1962 Mr. Marshall moved to Greenwich Village, where his neighbors included Mr. Dylan and Judy Collins. But after two years he returned to San Francisco, where he remained. In his career he shot for Rolling Stone and other magazines and had more than 500 album cover credits.
No immediate family members survive.

Mr. Marshall spoke candidly about how his cocaine addiction had sidelined his career in the mid-1970s. By the late 1980s he had re-emerged, and his skills — and prestige — were often in demand by younger musicians like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Cult. He had numerous gallery shows in recent years, and some of his work was included in the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition “Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present,” which ran from October to January.

“A lot of photography of music is about the look, the style, the celebrity image,” said Gail Buckland, the curator of that show. But Mr. Marshall, she added, “wasn’t really manufacturing an image.”
“He was trying to see who that person was,” she said.

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