I’m not the first to notice that Jim had a thing for photos that showed his subjects (usually singers and often women) with their arms flung wide open. Both in his shot selection in the moment and later, when he was poring over proof sheets looking for unsung “hero shots,” Jim’s eye and his heart were tuned to recognize these moments.
As a great visual artist, he’s certainly not alone in that fascination, the arms wide open move can become a performer’s signature gesture and there isn’t a music photographer alive who hasn’t snapped away trying to capture it. Yet, as usual, Jim’s perfect moments take the pose out of the classic performer move, and make it feel more like a raw, all-encompassing embrace: passionate, giving and full of potential to hurt or heal … just like him.
If I had to pick just one of these iconic images to muse upon, I’d choose Jim’s color shot of Nina Simone at Town Hall in New York in 1960. It’s a lesser-known shot (though it is featured in his book of color images, “Trust”) of a complex, misunderstood artist. As a Simone fan, I can’t quite decide what I love most about this picture: the unmitigated joy in her face or her unbelievable style in blending couture with more roots-related accessories. Jim loved this picture – though oddly he only shot one roll of film of this performance – and he really loved singer/pianist Simone’s work, especially “Lilac Wine” and “Wild Is the Wind,” a song written by Ned Washington and Dmitri Tiomkin that was a signature for her and later inspired musical artists as diverse as Bowie, Streisand and Cat Power to cover it.
In fact, I think the “Wild Is the Wind” lyrics capture Jim’s ravenous inspiration to a tee:
say you do Let me fly away with you
For my love is like the wind,
and wild is the wind
Wild is the wind
satisfy this hungriness
Let the wind blow through your heart
Oh wild is the wind, wild is the wind
Wild at Heart
In line with our women-centric theme this month, we searched the overflowing Jim Marshall Photography vaults to find some early and rare examples of Jim’s enduring fascination with all things feminine, iconic and mystique-fueled.
Here are some that caught our eyes:
- Odetta and Elizabeth Cotton joyful at the rare opportunity to see each other backstage at the Berkeley Folk Festival in 1978. The great Odetta AKA “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement” is cited as the key inspiration in the folk revival of the ’50s and ’60s. She was also a major influence for Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin and Mavis Staples. Elizabeth Cotton wrote “Freight Train,” honed the left-handed guitar style known as “cotton picken” and never played out anywhere but church until she was in her 60s, when she was discovered by the Seeger family working as their housekeeper. Nuff said.
- Mahalia Jackson, one of 13 children, the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall. She sang at President Kennedy’s inaugural ball in 1961 and for 250,000 people at the March on Washington in 1963. Her good friend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “A voice like hers comes along once in a millennium.”
- Anita O’Day, known for shattering the image of “the girl singer.” She left a broken home at 14, cultivated a tough, cool, jazz hipster image, which was at the time quite unique and risky. Known for her rhythmic, edgy style, O’Day went on to sing with the Krupa, Herman and Kenton big bands to much fanfare before going solo. Despite the signature white gloves and late ’60s heroin addiction (which she managed to kick), O’Day was considered indestructible. - Miriam Makeba, born in South Africa and known as “Mama Africa,” popularized African music in the United States and globally. Makeba campaigned against apartheid feverishly for which her citizenship and right to return to her home was revoked. She returned in 1990 after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.
A true, old soul Makeba once said, “Nobody will know the pain of exile until you are in exile. No matter where you go, there are times when people show you kindness and love, and there are times when they make you know that you are with them but not of them. That’s when it hurts.”
We hope these shots may inspire you to learn more about these powerful, elegant, vulnerable, earth-shaking talents, strong women one and all who have in common that for one moment – alone and together – they were caught in the throes of Jim’s wild embrace.