Media Life: Never-before-seen Cash, Folsom Prison images unearthed

By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Media LIfe and Gus Thomson can be reached at

or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.  


When the doors of Folsom Prison swung shut and the heavy metal banged loudly, Johnny Cash famously turned to photographer Jim Marshall and grimly remarked: “That sounds ominously final.”

And in a way it was.

In a good way that is.

Marshall and Cash never could really escape the Folsom Prison experience they had that day.

Those two famous back-to-back 1968 concerts before a packed cafeteria of scarily enthusiastic inmates were recorded and made their way onto vinyl in the form of the iconic “At Folsom Prison” album. And Cash was given a second act — a redemption after years of wandering the backroads of fame and fortune, far from the hits he made in the 1950s and early 1960s.

While Cash’s Folsom legacy is enshrined in the album — a disc that revitalized his career — Marshall was the photographer behind the lens for many of haunting images from that gray winter’s day.

After 50 years, not all the shots from the Cash visit to Folsom Prison had been seen beyond the darkroom. That is changing in a big way this month. Marshall died in 2010 and his family worked with both the San Francisco Art Exchange gallery and country music songwriter-turned-author Marty Stuart to make public never-before-published photos from the Cash Folsom Prison visit.

The Geary Street gallery is showing and selling 30 of the black-and-white and color photos from the Folsom Prison show, the San Quentin prison performance the next year and selective other Cash images from Marshall.

And Stuart provides the insider text on a book that presents still more of the photos and provides context to the famous visits to the two state prisons.

It was fitting that Marshall was at Folsom Prison with Cash. His camera recorded the leading music events and personalities of the 1960s and he’ll forever be entwined with Cash and popular culture because of his shot showing the singer “flipping the bird” to the camera. Known as perhaps the most bootlegged photo in rock music history, the image and two others on the same roll are being shown in the form of a blown up contact sheet during the San Francisco Art Exchange exhibition. That photo was take at San Quentin after Marshall said to Cash “Let’s do a shot for the warden.”

Marshall was at Folsom Prison at the personal request of Cash, who he had known and photographed since 1962.

Theron Kabrich, San Francisco Art Exchange gallery co-founder, said Marshall was the only professional photographer on location because he came in with Johnny and June Carter Cash.

“He had full access to the entire stage area, backstage, outside — you name it. He was basically part of Johnny’s posse,” Kabrich said.

Marshall’s work is one of those fortuitous “catches” of a legendary and historic performance. The San Francisco exhibit ends Aug. 8. The book, “Johnny Cash at Folsom and San Quentin: Photographs by Jim Marshall,” is to be released July 28.

Media LIfe and Gus Thomson can be reached at or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.