“Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae” Review
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Music.
“There have been any number of biographies of Bob Marley and histories of Reggae,” opens Jeff Walker, roughly half way into Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae. But make no mistake, there haven’t been many to offer as much visual insight into Marley and the early Reggae community as this. First and foremost the 160 page collection is a time capsule, collecting the works of photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker which were shot in the mid-’70s. Some of which, as Walker explains later in his statement, are being published for the first time with this collection.
Cameron Crowe introduces the book with a glowing take on the work that follows, “Kim’s talent in slipping past the trappings of an artist’s stardom were instantly obvious,” he writes. (His entire introduction can be read online courtesy of Rolling Stone.) And within the first few pages, his suggestion becomes glaringly apparent. Gottlieb-Walker was the first outsider to photograph Marley during one of her and her husband Jeff’s many cultural explorations to Jamaica. Jeff, an upstart music journalist turned PR head for Island, does well to complement the pictures with an effortless overview of the era. But as the title suggests the focus isn’t solely on Marley, but a wide-reaching range of artists who were just hitting their groove during that period of time. Focusing heavily on the illusive Bunny Wailer and a “gentle and thoughtful” Peter Tosh, the book also intimately captures a slew of artists who are now associated with building the foundation for the genre: Toots and the Maytals, Jacob Miller and Inner Circle, Third World… the list goes on.
Gottlieb-Walker went on to become a production photographer for John Carpenter, later working as a still-photographer for film and television production ranging from Halloween to Escape From New York to Cheersto Star Trek: The Next Generation. Her husband does well to explain her tireless approach to the medium, noting how there was rarely a moment when the camera was not at eye level waiting to capture the world around her. Explains Marley archivist Roger Steffens, “Her philosophy is ‘decisive moment’ photography. ‘Moments,’ she explains, ‘that are a true reflection of the subject.’”
In brief, Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae is a written and visual soundtrack to an era unlike any other. The photos are second to none in capturing the private moments of a man who has taken on the following of a god since his death in 1981. In the absence of actually hearing the music, it’s the next best thing in terms of gaining an idea of what the scene was all about. As Walker notes in his conclusion, Reggae still lives on as healthy as ever, “But the vast array of talent, personalities and great music that defined the brief period covered in this book has never been even remotely equaled.” And that era might never be better documented than it is here.
Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae 1957-1976: The Photographs of Kim Gottlieb-Walker is available via Titan Books.