Photographer Jim Marshall captured some of the most famous musicians and public figures of the twentieth century, from the Beatles to Miles Davis to Janis Joplin. Looking at such pictures, it's easy to forget the photographer entirely, focusing only on the famous subjects caught in unguarded moments. But the book Proof, published in 2004, shows the process behind the classic photos, and highlights the creative importance of choice and a discerning eye.
Each spread in Proof shows one of Marshall's photos on the right-hand page, and the corresponding proof sheet — which represents a roll of film — on the left side. The proof sheets show the "outtakes," alternative moments and angles of the same subjects and events. They let us see everything Marshall shot before and after he captured the images that would go on to be in Life magazine or on the cover of the artist's next album.
Many of the alternate shots from the proof sheets are captivating, and it's fascinating to see more of these famous individuals — for example, shots of Janis Joplin smiling and laughing backstage at a show alongside the shot that Marshall singled out of her lying on a couch with a bottle of Southern Comfort. In his introduction to the book, writer Joel Selvin, a friend and collaborator to Marshall, says that the high quality of every photo on the proof sheets shows just how talented of a photographer Jim Marshall was.
But his talent also lay in his ability to look at a proof sheet of strong images and choose the best one, the one that really captured something special. When creating, it’s unlikely that everything you produce will be ready to show the world — it’s often important to have options and try out different alternatives. You may create many pieces that should never see the light of day, and others that are good, but not right for your intended purpose. As Proof illustrates, finding your creative process includes developing a critical eye that allows you to see when you’re onto something good.