When Amelia Davis looks across the Jim Marshall 1967 gallery at City Hall, she sees a generation of activists and protesters who had a voice, she sees the experience and dedication of her late boss and friend Jim, and she sees full swing how the same experience is happening today in the United States.
“What’s nice about these photographs is they are a testament to show how that summer did matter,” reflecting on the social revolution that ignited during the ‘60s. “Jim really documented the whole movement that was happening before people realized what was happening,” said Davis. “San Francisco became a place for people of different backgrounds and religions to come together and not be harassed and not have to be worried about being harassed, and I think that still holds true today in san Francisco and I see that today in coming full circle, what happened in 1965-1968, so, again, the peace symbol is so meaningful now.”
“Younger generations who weren’t around for it can now view these photographs and experience it as if they were there and really learn from what we did back then,” said Davis. In comparing the Summer of Love in 1967 to the political climate Americans face in 2017, Davis suggests that there’s a good thing coming out of the confusion—a renewed drive towards political action.
“With activism, speaking out, you can make a difference, and you have to do something about it,” she said, talking about social conflict. “It really takes young people to be active again.” Davis, the sole beneficiary of the Jim Marshall Estate, worked under Marshall for 13 years as an assistant and photo archivist, and recently collaborated with Meg Shiffler, Galleries Director of the San Francisco Arts Commission, to curate the gallery. The exhibition features a selection of 80 images from the thousands that Marshall took throughout the year 1967 in California, and is only a fraction of the millions owned by the estate.
The gallery is presented in chronological order of the year 1967, starting with an image of Jerry Garcia, an iconic singer-songwriter who is best known for his work with the Grateful Dead, and Freewheelin’ Frank (of the Hell’s Angels), as they sit among a neighborhood crowd on Jan. 1, 1967 for the free concert, the Hells Angels Thanks for Diggers New Year’s Day Wail, and continuing throughout the year featuring icons of the ‘60s such as Allen Ginsberg, Jefferson Airplane, Grace Slick and more.
“We’re thrilled to be presenting, for the first time, an exhibition that focuses on the way photographer Jim Marshall helped to define our cultural understanding of the Summer of Love, the San Francisco hippie movement, and the birth of psychedelic rock and roll,” said Shiffler in a press release to explain the overall objective of the gallery, which is to see Marshall’s year through his eyes.
Shiffler approached Davis with the idea for the exhibition and it transformed into the 80-image gallery.
“She said ‘you know what, we’ve never done an exhibition where it’s just seen through one photographer’s eyes that really shows how busy that photographer was in one year,’ and you see that because we’ve broken it out month to month and you can see that he was always working,” said Davis. “I think looking at these photos you can really see that. He didn’t think of it as a job.”
In reflecting on Marshall’s schedule in 1967, Davis finds herself in disbelief.
“Some months — I don’t know how he did it! He was down in Monterey then he came back up here and it was all over the place, but people also forget that if you wanted to eat that that’s what you had to do.”
Due to the way the photographs were selected, it shows a more personal side to Marshall’s life.
“Everyone will get to know Jim,” said Shiffler.
Thanks to Davis’s close work with Marshall, she is able to recite stories to match each image, including a situation that involved the movement of equipment from Monterey Pop to the Panhandle for a free concert in the park by the Grateful Dead, or Jimi Hendrix warningg Marshall to bring extra film and cameras on stage before he ignited his guitar.
“Jimi knew he was going to do that and he said ‘Hey Jim, make sure you’ve got a lot of film in your camera,’ and Jim said ‘Why? and he said ‘You’ll see!’” said Davis.
While looking at an image of Jerry Garcia, Davis explains she loves the photo because Garcia is young and because the photograph features a diverse set of people, including hippies, college students, children and Free Wheelin’ Frank from the Hell’s Angels.
Davis takes a moment to reflect on the Hell’s Angels, which over time acquired a bad rep, but, as she explains, during the ‘60s came through as free security for the free concerts that popped up.
Over all, the gallery covers many of the people, events, and ideas that people recall when they think about the ‘60s.
“There are the iconic [photographs], so what’s nice about his exhibit is that despite how most people think of Jim as a music photographer, there are other iconic images as well. We are trying to show the breadth and depth of Jim’s photography,” said Davis.
“When Jim was photographing it was an all manual camera, so he had to know the equipment, and he used film, so if he didn’t have the settings right, he wouldn’t ever know that he messed up a whole roll of film until he developed it and said ‘Oh, shit!’ so there was no do-over,” said Davis, in explaining how Marshall had advanced technical skills with his cameras.
“One of the things that’s a real testament to Jim is that he knew his equipment and he always got the moment. He never messed up. When he took a photograph he knew it was coming out,” said Davis.
The photographer’s career spanned more than 50 years and in that time he shot hundreds of images that are iconic of the era, including Jimi Hendrix burning guitar at Monterey Pop. His photographs have appeared on the cover of more than 500 albums, featuring artists including Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, The Beatles, and more.
Davis explained that Marshall never left an event early and aimed to capture multiple aspects, including shots out into the audience, or a first-person perspective while walking around the area to see what else was going on.
“As a photographer, Jim had a curious eye and was always looking but never satisfied, and that’s what you can really see in these photographs, is everything that was going on,” said Davis. “It was to document—Jim was a historian with a camera, that’s the way he liked to describe himself.”
“He always had multiple Leicas around this neck and he had color and black and white. He would switch and would use his color camera if he was out of his black and white, said Davis, mentioning camera click flash noises while describing Marshall.
“And I think this again really shows that it was his life. To quote Jim again, ‘It’s never just been a job, it’s been my life,’” said Davis.
When asked to pick a favorite photograph from the exhibit, Davis has trouble.
“It’s hard to pick a favorite because there are 90 of these photos. Jim always said ‘My photographs are my children,’ so it’s hard for me to pick one because Jim trusted me to take care of his children,” said Davis.
From his more than 50 years of photography the Jim Marshall Estate includes more than one million images in black and white 35 mm alone. That’s not including his 2 1/4 or his color, so the collection is massive. The Jim Marshall Estate is in the process of digitizing the photos, but anticipates years of work to come due to the scope of the project. Eventually the estate would like to have a center where people can research using Marshall’s photography, or can simply view the pieces of history.
“As we digitize it sometimes we find gems, so I always like to say I’m an archaeologist going on a dig and sometimes we find these treasure troves of great images,” said Davis. “One of the things that’s important to me is being able to share Jim’s photography with the world because one of the things that happens a lot is that when a photographer dies his archive is locked away from the world and no one ever sees it again and I think Jim’s photography is too important historically to do that, so what we’re trying to do is to do shows and books to really get it out into the public, their consciousness.”
“I think it’s wonderful to have the city embrace him and to look at the history that he’s captured,” said Davis. “It was a big undertaking—picking 80 photographs, but Jim was a big part of the city.”
Jim Marshall’s 1967 is part of a citywide celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. The work can be seen in a second project called American Civics, a collaboration between Shephard Fairey and Jim Marshall, LLC. Fairey has interpreted Marshall’s portraits of icons such as Johnny Cash, Cesar Chavez and Fannie Lee Chaney as human faces behind social issues, including voting rights, mass incarceration and worker’s rights. The images are currently displayed on two billboard in San Francisco.
Jim Marshall portraits are also available for viewing at the San Francisco United School District building at 555 Franklin St. The installation is across the street from SF Jazz and accordingly features legendary jazz musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Count Basie, Anita O’Day, Charles Mingus, Vi Redd and Nina Simone.
The gallery at City Hall, located on the ground floor, will be on display through June 17, 2017 and is free to the public during open business hours.
For more information, visit the website www.jimmarshallphotographyllc.com or the Facebook page Jim Marshall Photography LLC.