These days, you can get a mid-range digital camera that packs more technology than the original Apollo moon landing. The megapixels are immense, the automation is total and it’s only a matter of time before one of these creations can order you a pizza with a side order of garlic bread.
Some of these features may be useful if you’re a news photographer, wanting to fire of a 50 frame burst of a celebrity leaving the wrong house at an inopportune time. But for most of us, the gizmos are bewildering, and the process leaves you feeling distant. That’s one of the reasons why I keep looking at this image of Jim Marshall’s camera.
As far as I know, it’s a Leica M4, all battered and brassed. In its day, it was probably quite expensive, and yet it has none of the fancy stuff like autofocus, metering or even automatic winding. But it does offer a near-silent shutter, an all-seeing viewfinder and impeccable quality lenses. Leica obsessives can bore endlessly about old-school German engineering. Annoyingly, they are often correct, as some of the greatest images of the last century were taken with this kit.
Anyway, Jim Marshall took some amazing photos of jazz musicians before falling in with the west coast rock and roll set. He pictured Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. He gave is the unforgettable image of Johnny Cash with his finger raised. He shot Jimi Hendrix at rehearsals for the Monterey Festival in 1967 and Jimi was tickled because his middle name was Marshall, and this was also the name of his amplifiers, man.
I’ve just picked up a second hand copy of Jim Marshall’s ‘Proof’ and it’s a wonderful book. To the left of each image there’s a contact sheet, showing 36 shots from the roll of film that delivered the classic frame. Almost every picture on the roll is a keeper. While today’s snappers will fill their memory cards with mediocre pixels, Jim had the eye, the rhythm and was purely decisive.
Anyone got a Leica, going cheap?
Stu Bailie presents The Late show on Radio Ulster, every Friday from 10pm until midnight. See his playlist here.