One music photographer who left his mark on the music industry with his striking and often candid images of some of the world’s biggest musicians is Jim Marshall. His greatest and most famous achievements include photographing country legend Johnny Cash at San Quentin, as well as serving as the chief photographer at the infamous Woodstock music festival in 1969. Other career highlights include photographing the Beatles at their final concert (the only photographer given allowed to do so), and capturing the stunning image of Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire on stage at the Monterey Pop Festival.
Jim Marshall’s talent as a music photographer rested in his ability to capture every side of his subjects, creating a complete, complex, and very human portrait of each of them. One of his most famous shots of Johnny Cash is an image of the country star with a defiant snarl on his face, extending his middle finger at the camera, showcasing his tough exterior, the product of a well-documented rough life. On the other hand, yet another famous photo in the Johnny Cash series is one of him tenderly and serenely embracing his wife, June Carter Cash. The photo shows a very human and loving side of the singer, and when put together with the first photograph tells the story of a very complex and multidimensional human being.
It’s safe to say that as a music photographer, Jim Marshall made his rock star subjects more accessible to their fans by photographing them in very real, everyday moments, on top of capturing their performances. It’s easy to think of musicians as being super humans who only exist on stage and whose every move is in some way more grand or perfect than those of everyday humans. By capturing some of the more vulnerable moments, as well as backstage images that show musicians as very normal people before their stage personas take over, Jim Marshall broke down the invisible wall that separates people from the rock stars they admire and worship. These moments of humanity were at times beautiful, at times tragic, and at times surprisingly mundane, proving that rock stars are just like everybody else.
Jim Marshall served as an influence for many, many other photographers since who have chosen to use musicians as their primary subject matter. Sadly, he passed away in his sleep in 2010 at the age of 74. His loss was mourned not only by fellow photographers, but by musicians, historians, and pop culture aficionados. We will forever be remembered as a brilliant music photographer who gave us all a glimpse into the lives of rock stars.