International Women's Day: Amelia Davis

Amelia Davis, Photographer
March 5, 2015

Since the early 1900’s, International Women’s Day has been observed throughout the world, inspiring women and celebrating their achievements. ‘Make It Happen’ is the 2015 theme, encouraging effective action for advancing and recognizing women. In honor of this, First Republic Bank would like to share the inspiring perspectives of some of our exceptional female clients.

Amelia Davis is an accomplished San Francisco-based photographer and sole beneficiary of legendary photographer Jim Marshall’s estate. Marshall photographed the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia, and since his passing Amelia founded Jim Marshall Photography LLC, a company which helps her to preserve and protect Jim’s extraordinary legacy as a discerning photojournalist and a pioneer of rock and roll photography. We chat with Amelia about her own career and being the beneficiary of one of the most important photographic archives of the twentieth century.

1. Can you tell us about your professional career?

Once I graduated, I began showing my photographs in galleries and exhibited in-group shows in major museums across the US. My fine art photography dealt with gender identity through projections and light on the human body.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994 and I went through that journey with her. I discovered there were no real photographs or images to show women what they would look like after a modified radical mastectomy, which was my mother’s only option. The only way a woman could possibly see what she would look like after surgery was if she knew someone who had breast cancer and a mastectomy who was willing to show her. My mother did not. So, my mother was devastated to see what she looked like for the first time after her mastectomy and it was at that moment that I realized I could use my camera to document and show women what they would look like, taking my path in photography on a completely different turn. No woman should EVER have to feel alone or disfigured. I began a six - year journey – photographing women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds with mastectomies, lumpectomies and reconstructive surgery. My mother was proudly the first photograph! Accompanying each photograph was a story written by each woman in their own voice about their own unique experience with breast cancer.

2. How did you come to found Jim Marshall Photography LLC?

I met Jim Marshall in 1998 when I was trying to get a publisher to publish this book. We immediately hit it off and Jim asked me to become his assistant. Fifty- six rejection letters later, I did get my book published through the University of Illinois Press in 2000. Although my mother died before the book was published, she lives on in the book through her photograph and writing. My photographic book, The First Look won numerous awards and has helped hundreds of thousands women know that they are not alone. My mother would be proud!

I was Jim Marshall’s assistant and close friend for the last thirteen years of his life. Although Jim and I photographed very different subjects, we both used the camera as a tool to show true human emotion no matter what the subject was. Jim Marshall is most well known being the Godfather of music photography and paving the way in that field of photography for future generations. Jim documented pieces of our history that will never happen again and need to be shared with future generations.

Jimi Hendrix during a free concert in the panhandle, San Francisco, California, 1967 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC.

Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, San Francisco, California, 1967 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC.

Jerry Garcia setting up for a free concert in the panhandle, San Francisco, California, 1967 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC.

Jim Marshall did not have any children. His photographs were his children. Jim protected his children fiercely when he was alive so that they would be available to share when he was gone. Jim said that the only person he trusted to take care of his children when he was gone was I. So when Jim died in 2010, he left me his entire estate. It has been a breathtaking journey for me to care for and be a part of one of the most important photographic archives of the twentieth century. Often times when a photographer dies, their estate and work is locked up and never seen again by the public. I will not do that with Jim Marshall’s work---it is too important. So I formed Jim Marshall Photography LLC to preserve and share Jim Marshall’s work with the world through publications of books, sale of photographs and major museum and gallery shows across the World.

Pay phone on Haight street, San Francisco, California, 1967 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC.

3. You have recently published a book, "The Haight: Love, Rock and Revolution" - can you tell us a bit about the book? 

This book came about when I found a notebook of Jim’s when I was cleaning out his apartment. It was a mock up of a proposed book called, The Haight. The book covered the counterculture movement that began on the intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street from 1965-1968. Jim had written a proposal for publishers in 1976 looking back at the Haight ten years later. The book was never published. It was too soon of a time frame looking back and the impact and importance of the counter culture movement had not been fully realized. So, fifty years later, we finished what Jim started. I think this book showcases some of Jim Marshall’s best work and he would be proud of it.

4. What accomplishment are you most proud of? 

I am the most proud of the three photographic books I did, The First Look, My Story about people and their care partners living with Multiple Sclerosis and my last book, Faces of Osteoporosis a book about the education and prevention of Osteoporosis I did with the State of California.

Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of thirty and not letting this chronic disease take control of my life. Being active about educating people about what diseases and illnesses look like even if you cannot outwardly see them. We should never judge someone based on what they look like. I am now forty- six and still leading an active healthy full life despite of the fact that I am living with a chronic illness.

5. Who has been a role model to you in your life/career and why? 

My mother has always been my role model. She taught me to never give up on what your vision is and that you can take whatever your talent is and use it to educate and help people.

6. This year's theme for International Women's day is 'Make it Happen', encouraging effective action for advancing and recognising women. What do you think is the most important action a woman can take in her life to meet her own vision for success? 

Never give up and always be open to new journeys in life even if you may not know what they are at the time. Never take “No” for an answer. And always know that you can make a difference. Never be ashamed of who you are and what you do. You can always find a way to make your vision come true, it just might not be right in front of you. So always be open to out of the box ideas and thinking.

7. What would you like your legacy to be? 

As a photographer, I would like to protect and share my photography and Jim Marshall’s photography with future generations. Both Jim & I documented human emotion at times when most people wanted to look away because they only wanted to see what was pretty. Truth and reality can be hard to look at but it can be done in a way that shows the dignity of the moment no matter who or what it is. By confronting reality in a true and honest matter, my hope is that people will start dialogues with each other about important issues that we are facing today by looking back at the past and learning from it. The only way we can move forward is by looking at the past. This is the legacy both Jim Marshall and I have left for future generations to learn from and be inspired to do the same.

Anti war protest in Oakland, California, 1965 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC.

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