“In the end, I want this to be a tribute to Jim,” says photographer Timothy White about Match Prints, the exhibition at New York’s Staley-Wise Gallery and book of the same name that he created with his good friend and mentor, the legendary rock photographer Jim Marshall, who passed away in late March at 74. “He is f--king world famous now, and the fact that we got to share something up until the very end is so cool.”
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Match Prints is a rare kind of joint-photography project; White and Marshall worked a generation apart, with Marshall shooting young rock stars during the Woodstock era, and White’s work coming to prominence during his tenure at Rolling Stone in the ultra-commercial, pop decade of the 1990s. And yet the pair found each other through the industry, and there was an instant connection. “Jim and I knew each other for about 22 years,” says White. “One day, we began sharing photos back and forth, trading, that sort of thing. And Jim saw my picture of Robert Mitchum and loved it, and he said he had shot a portrait of Jim Morrison that was nearly identical. From there, we began this constant sharing of similar subjects and poses, shot 20 years apart. We just loved each other and loved photography, and it was a non-competitive, egoless project.”
The friends began to notice eerie similarities between their work; Marshall had photographed John Lennon in his prime, while White had a portrait of his good friend Julian Lennon. They had both shot Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles. And each had images of celebrities flipping the bird to the camera. (White captured Elizabeth Taylor on a mock red carpet while Marshall had taken the now iconic photograph of Johnny Cash giving the finger at San Quentin prison in 1969). The juxtaposition of portraits of late-career Shelley Winters and Shirley MacLaine looking into mirrors is striking and poignant, aging and vanity experienced across time and space. By pairing their works into clever diptychs for both the book and an exhibition, Marshall and White have created something new: celebrity portraits that talk to each other and gossip among themselves.
“Jim and I are completely different,” says White. “He was more of a photojournalist, he hovered and tried to capture a moment. Both Jim and his subjects thought it was a moment that was true, a moment he wanted to draw out of them. My style is about creating an environment, a situation. Jim used mostly black and white, and I'm best known for color.
“But the most obvious difference,” White continues, “Is that Jim was photographing these people when they were young, they were his peers. The industry didn’t have superstars that way yet, not on the levels of fame, money, power, or control they had in ensuing years. By the time I got to them, 25 years later, they were superstars, they were making millions of dollars, and they had control over their image. Something so important to Jim was access, the fact that he was given freedom to hover, and to be there as part of scene, and that wasn’t necessarily the case when I got around to it. These people didn’t have publicists, they barely had homes.”
White hopes that the project, which he and Marshall began taking seriously as a book idea in the last few years, will commemorate his good friend’s work, and the unusual relationship they had of mutual admiration without professional jealousy. “From the beginning, this project wasn’t for other people, that was the beauty of it, we had the ability to just giggle and do it together, do it for us,” he says. “That’s the sadness for me, Jim really dug this. It wasn’t about careers or ego, it was just about us having some fun with something that we thought was unique. Photographers are so egotistical usually that they never collaborate. But we did.”
Rachel Syme is the former culture editor of The Daily Beast and now writes regularly about the arts.