October 17,2014:Â Jim Marshall was always watching.His contemporaries remember him forever on the spot, four or five cameras draped around his neck, the proverbial fly on the wall.
A new book, “The Haight: Love, Rock and Revolution,” shows how he chronicled an era.
Click: Janis Joplin. Click: Jimi Hendrix at Monterey. Click, click, click: The Beatles at Candlestick Park, the Grateful Dead on a rooftop, the Jefferson Airplane casually jamming.
Marshall is justifiably famous for these photos of the famous. But it wasn’t like he put away his cameras when the rock stars — then, for the most part, just getting more widely known — put away their instruments. “The Haight” showcases pictures Marshall took from about 1965 to 1968, when Haight-Ashbury went from a quietly run-down fringe area to the most famous neighborhood in America: Hippie Central.
For Marshall, it was also home.
“He lived in the Haight. He was at ground zero,” says Amelia Davis, Marshall’s longtime assistant, who now oversees the estate of the late photographer. (Marshall died in 2010.) “So much happened in a short period of time, and Jim saw that.”
The book’s earlier images show a neighborhood on the verge of change. In 1965, Haight-Ashbury was a mixed-race enclave of cheap apartments and old Victorian houses, home to working-class laborers and Beat artists looking for inexpensive digs. The countercultural bent started early: In one photo, residents are shown protesting the Vietnam War at a time when the war was barely a blip on the national radar.
Suddenly the music scene took over, exemplified by the Airplane, the Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Charlatans. The Charlatans, who dressed as Edwardian swells, were probably the most deliberately colorful, but it was the other bands who became the legends.
Marshall’s eye was able to find the energy in musicians without being sentimental. The Beatles, shot at their last American concert, are caught backstage, pensive and bored; in one photo, Paul McCartney doodles on a table while Joan Baez smiles into Marshall’s lens. In others, Joplin comes across as innocent and ferocious — and, sometimes, heartbreakingly sad.
Marshall is no less unsparing when shooting the neighborhood, which became a destination for tourists and dropouts. One photo shows a family of six driving through, their car windows safely rolled up as if in protection against long hair. Another shows an inoculation being given at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic.
As Quicksilver’s David Freiberg says in the book, “I had about two weeks that were really happy. After that, it faded pretty quickly. … The drugs changed. The Gray Line (tour buses were) going up the street.”
Marshall got such access because he was a part of the scene. He didn’t just take the Beatles’ picture; he hung out with them. He went to Monterey, the groundbreaking 1967 music festival, because he was pals with many of the acts.
“A lot of the musicians really knew that Jim wasn’t taking advantage of them. He was there documenting what was happening, and that’s why he was able to get such great shots,” says Davis.
Amazingly, Marshall’s photographs were done on manually operated Leicas — no autofocus, no special lighting, certainly no Photoshop.
“He was able to compose that shot, in a second, within that viewfinder, and he never cropped his photos,” Davis says. “That just tells you his genius.”
These days, when the Haight has become a gentrified stretch of expensive apartments and exclusive boutiques, Marshall’s photographs are even more striking. They show bands on the rise, streets in flux, a time being born — and, just as quickly, fading away.
His lens, “The Haight” shows, missed little.
“He was everywhere,” says Davis.