We couldn’t help but notice the other day that Magnum, the renowned photo agency founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cornell Capa and other photojournalists in Paris after the end of WWII, has released a coffee table book featuring a collection of proof sheets from its famous archives. I know Jim was a big fan of much of the work that Magnum photographers created, and he counted many of them as great inspirations, even friends. Yet I can’t help but wonder what Jim’s reaction might have been when he saw this book of famous proof sheets coming out more than seven years after “Proof,” Jim’s own pioneering book of marked up proofs and hero shots. Perhaps, if he was feeling magnanimous that day, Jim might have just shrugged or uttered some version of the cliché, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” only with a few F bombs thrown in for good measure to betray his irritation. But don’t take it from me. Ex-SF Chronicle rock music journalist, broadcaster, raconteur and self-described “smart ass,” Joel Selvin, who collaborated with Jim on “Monterey Pop” and wrote the introduction for, “Proof,” has this to say:
Pulling Back the Curtain
“Marshall didn’t show a lot of people his proof sheets. He tended to print the same photos over and over and rarely consulted them again himself. I ran across Marshall in a bank parking lot in 1990, when he accosted me – that’s the word – with the idea of doing a book with him about Monterey Pop. ‘It’s found money,’ he said. “After we landed a deal with Chronicle Books, Marshall was less interested. He handed over the proof sheets and told me to do the photo edit. We needed 90 photos. I found 120 on the first pass. “The proof sheets were unbelievable. Every frame was composed. Every shot worked. I’d been around the newspaper business all my life and I had seen a lot of proof sheets. But nothing like Marshall’s. “Over the years, I would look over Marshall’s proof sheets when I was doing photo research and find amazing shots he never even printed. There was an utterly angelic picture of Pigpen of the Grateful Dead, leaning on the stage at the Human Be-In, listening to one of the other bands that I used in my book, ‘Summer Of Love,’ and that Dennis McNally subsequently licensed for his Grateful Dead biography, ‘Long Strange Trip.’
Marshall looked at the shot when I showed it to him on the proof sheet and said, ‘Yeah, that is a good shot.’ He’d never seen it before and probably hadn’t looked at the proofs since he filed them away. “ ‘Proof’ was a 2004 volume we did for Chronicle Books that juxtaposed a contact sheet with what Marshall called ‘the hero shot.’ The book was my idea and Marshall was so pleased, he insisted I pose for the dust jacket photo with him. I love that book – it has a very special place in my work. In the introduction I wrote: ‘Richard Avedon would never do this.’ “All this comes to mind because I saw the New York Times reviewer fall all over herself praising the new book of contact sheets from Magnum Photo. Avedon isn’t represented among the 70 photographers in the book, but that was the basic idea – pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz. “Marshall would have gotten a big laugh out of that.”
Jim Marshall Shoots People
And, while I’m sure Joel is correct when he says that it was his idea to do the book with Chronicle Books, I think deep down Jim always knew a book of his proof sheets would happen. Why? Because the first time I ever met him at the Cadillac Bar in March of 1984 he had one of those ever-present Kodak film paper boxes with him, chock full of proof sheets featuring all of his hero shots. He said he just wanted to make sure my ignorant 19-year-old self knew “who she was dealing with.” I recall he told me he had a lot of bridges to mend in the industry, and that his reputation was “dead in this town” because of all the gun bullshit and animosity he had stirred up. He said he needed to get some good publicity and he needed to start working again. His solution? He was going to take the hero shots on all those proof sheets and make a promotional poster titled “Jim Marshall Shoots People” (and then he paused to watch my rather horrified reaction) before breaking into that infamous cackle of his … but then I thought about it and looked more closely at the proofs in that dinged up old film paper box to see that each sheet was literally jammed with amazing images. I remember blurting out that it looked to me like he had a book in there.
And I then he put down his drink, stopped staring at my chest and really looked at me for the first time, wanting to believe what I said, but so full of doubt and anger and regret that he just couldn't let himself. Instead, he just shook his head, laughed a bitter little laugh, and changed the subject back to whether I would ever date an old fart like him. So a big hat’s off to Joel Selvin, for hearing past the laugh and pushing through Jim’s resistance to pull back the curtain so that the full “Proof” of his determined talent, and the trust it created, could see the light of day.