On the 50th anniversary of the first performance of the Rolling Stones—July 12, 2012—I am sitting in the Steven Kasher Gallery on West 23rd Street in Chelsea interviewing Kasher about his passion for the 1960s and 1970s, his deep interest in the Civil Rights Movement, and his love of documentary photography.
Up in the gallery is the first serious exhibition in New York City of one of the greatest music photographers of all time: Jim Marshall. The exhibit, Jim Marshall: The Rolling Stones and Beyond, features over 60 photographs and over one hundred vintage record covers “mapping Jim Marshall’s entire career and introducing never-before-seen images he captured during the Rolling Stones’ 1972 U.S. tour.” Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones were in the band then and the group took their name from a Muddy Waters album that included the song, “Rollin’ Stone.” Forty years ago, the legendary tour earned a four-million-dollar box office—bigger than any before.
Among the striking largely black-and-white images on view are several photos of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards shot at the Sunset Sound studio in Los Angeles (1972), Janis Joplin backstage, Winterland, San Francisco (1968), her hand clutching a bottle of Southern Comfort, and the Beatles coming off a plane, San Francisco (1966). Most are natural, moody, unsmiling shots with Marshall capturing the musicians in their milieu.
There are no bodyguards and no public relations people to be found in these photographs. Indeed, many of Marshall’s musicians do not even seem to be posing for his camera. They stare straight ahead, often looking somewhere else. They close their eyes as they strum their guitars. They drink their booze and they smoke their cigarettes. They slouch on chairs or sit on planes, often with their backs to us. We see them in movement and in profile. We see them with their eyes closed. The images convey the grittiness of the performance and the intensity of the music.
We see a C-Print of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at the Forum in Los Angeles (1972), BB King, Albert King and Bobby “Blue” Bland backstage, at the Circle Star Theater in Redwood City, California (early 1980s), and Miles Davis in the ring, at Newman’s Gym in San Francisco (1971). There is a group shot of The Who, from their first tour in San Francisco (1968) and Jimi Hendrix, in a Monterey Pop soundcheck (1967).
Jim Marshall was a “prickly, sparkling individual,” Kasher says, who had a gift for bonding with musicians. “He was a friend with everyone from Joan Baez to the blues guys, to the Stones.” He revered photojournalists and he approached his work as more of a photojournalist than a fine arts photographer.
A hands-on gallery director and curator, Kasher installs his shows “inch by inch,” writing and designing the entire exhibition and sculpting each and every press release to reach out to a broader audience. “The medium of photography is pretty much used by everybody,” Kasher says. Although fine arts photography is a very small part of the spectrum, when you put documentary photography in a gallery, “it becomes art photography. The images are experienced in an aesthetic mode.”
Kasher turned his attention to documentary photography after graduating from Rutgers with a fine arts degree. He went to work as a special projects coordinator for the Black Star photo agency where his mission was to take pictures from the extensive news archive, developed by its former director Howard Chapnick, and place them in the art world.
When Kasher launched his gallery, his template was to find things outside of the canon. Among his first clients was the Museum of Modern Art which was just beginning to build up a collection of photographs not done as art.
First turning his attention to the Civil Rights Movement, Kasher mounted a series of shows about the March on Washington, including one historical commemoration onNew York’s Fifth Avenue. Kasher also wrote a book, The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-1968, a volume that was to become a major resource for students of the era. Published by Abbeville Press in 1996, it tells the story of the American civil rights movement through “rousing and often wrenching photographs.”
In January 2002, Kasher curated In the Spirit of Martin, an exhibit on Martin Luther King at The Smithsonian which traveled to many museums. There was a companion catalogue to the show.
Kasher is obsessed with the 1960s and 1970s, the period that “formed” him. Two years ago, he mounted a show on Max’s Kansas City, with a companion book. “Max’s was a utopian moment,” he says, “where all different kinds of people came together and inspired each other.”
The current Jim Marshall show happened very quickly. “I was approached by his estate one year ago,” Kasher says. Since Marshall’s approach was to print only one or two photos of a musician, like Janis Joplin, those images became iconic. Many other images, however, were never seen. In collaboration with Amelia Davis, Marshall’s long-time assistant, Kasher plans to show these unseen photographs in future exhibits.
None of the prints in the current exhibit are from the 1960s although there are several signed images that were printed in Marshall’s lifetime. Unsigned images, never before seen, were printed posthumously in editions of 25.
Another Jim Marshall exhibit is currently on view until January 6, 2013 in Seattle at the Experience Music Project (EMP). The Rolling Stones 1972, Photographs by Jim Marshall, features 37 prints of the Stones’ legendary 1972 tour and Robert Frank’s rarely seen original album cover art for Exile on Main St.
'Jim Marshall: The Rolling Stones and Beyond' exhibit at the Steven Kasher Gallery 521 West 23rd Street, NYC will be up until September 8, 2012.