The first time Amelia Davis met Jim Marshall she had absolutely no idea who he was. It was 1998 and Davis, then studying photography at UC Davis, was at a friend’s 30th birthday party packed with strangers. “There was this little man with a Leica camera around his neck who spotted me and shuffled over,” she says. “I said to him, ‘I’m a photographer. What do you do?’ He goes, ‘I’m a photographer too.’”
After chatting for a few minutes about her in-progress book about breast cancer patients (“A lot of my friends had breast cancer and Thanksgiving turkeys look better than their scars,” said the typically blunt Marshall”) he turned to her and posed a rather personal question. “He asked if I was gay,” she says with a laugh. “I said I was and he went, ‘Oh! I’m always attracted to gay women or married women.’ I looked at him and went, ‘That’s your problem, not mine.’ He laughed and laughed and said, ‘I think we’re going to be really good friends.’”
The next day they got coffee and he asked her to become his new assistant. It wasn’t until they got to his apartment and she saw images on the wall like Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival at the Beatles taking the field at Candlestick Park for their final public performance as a band that she realized she was in the presence of a true legend. Not only is Marshall was one of the best rock photographers in history, but one of the true photography greats of the 20th century in any field. “I was just so embarrassed,” she says. “I looked at him and said, ‘I had no idea that was you.’ He looked at me and smiled and said, ‘That’s why I like you.’”
Davis worked closely with Marshall over the next 13 years, helping him curate his enormous photography archive and deal with the chaos of his daily life. “He was still doing a lot of cocaine when I started working for him,” she says. “So he was kind of erratic. He would binge and nobody could get ahold of him for days. I saw this incredible photographer that was trying to kill himself. He was just so destructive.”
Marshall never had any children and when he suddenly died in 2010, he left his entire archive to Davis. “His photos really were his children and he really cared for them when he was alive,” she says. “He said to me, ‘The only person I care to trust my children is you.’ I promised him that I’d care for them. And when he died, I inherited over a million children.”
Davis has spent the last nine years sorting through his enormous archive, uncovering countless gems from throughout his long career that have never been seen. Many of them can be seen in the new book Jim Marshall: Show Me the Picture: Images and Stories from a Photography Legend, which is a companion piece to an upcoming documentary Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall, which premiered at SXSW earlier this year.
We spoke to Davis about 13 images from the new book. Click through to see them and read her commentary.