What makes a rock and roll musician iconic? Is it their catalog of music? Their live performances? What they say in interviews? Or is it the way they are portrayed in photographs? I’m going to go with all of the above but I think the fourth answer could be the most important. Since most of us have never and will never meet our favorite musicians we have to rely on other peoples’ photographs to give us some kind of perception of what these people are like. Although what we are really getting is the photographer’s viewpoint through their lense, at least it’s something.
Famous rock and roll photographer Jim Marshall died last night at the age of 74. We have lost someone whose photos of music icons like Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix are so renowned that you’ve probably seen them before and didn’t know they were taken by Marshall. Whether they were made into posters seen in college houses (i.e. the black and white image of Cash giving the camera his middle finger) or used in blogs (i.e. the black and white of Hendrix I used on March 16) his photos are everywhere. And for good reason. He was brilliant.
I think one of the reasons I admire Marshall so much, other than his amazing images, is that he reminds me of my Father. My parents’ house in Miami is decorated with decade’s worth of photos my Dad took of everyone including Elton John, Michael Jackson (one from the 70s when he was black and one from the 90s when he was white), Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen, John Denver, Willie Nelson and many more. His photos are great and it’s very cool to be able to say that my parents have seen and/or met these music legends.
When I saw Billy Joel and Elton John with my best friend Carly I was adamant about taking the best possible photos I could of the two piano men. I figured it was the only time I would ever have the chance to see them and that I had better get some good photos to give to my parents and to Carly. We recently found out that Joel and John cancelled the rest of their tour. I guess it will be awhile before anyone is taking their photo again.
Although Marshall is gone and both the world of photography and the world of rock and roll have suffered an enormous loss his images aren’t going anywhere and neither is his legacy. There will never be another Jim Marshall but hopefully he will continue to inspire photographers to do great things and take unforgettable photographs.