Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae 1975–1976
by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

Being usurped by hippie culture and having his image used nearly as ubiquitously as that of Che Guevara, Bob Marley and his legacy have been tainted probably beyond repair. The power of the reggae legend’s music has been drained and his visage probably now has more commercial resonance than social meaning. Generations now associate Marley with Carribean cruises and places to put their weed rather than righteous rebellion.

It’s a shame that Marley and his music have been so degraded since the musician’s death in 1981. There was a time when reggae was as adventurous as any noisy experimentalism and when it followed in the legacy of the folksinging greats (Guthrie, Seeger, Dylan, etc.) in terms of social currency. Indeed, Jamaica was a nation as troubled as the worst third world countries, and Marley gave voice to the concerns of a neglected minority while at the same time generating hope and a general spirit of goodwill in the process. In 1975, though, Marley and reggae were still rising phenomenons. It was at this time time that photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker travelled to Jamaica with her husband, Jeff Walker, head of publicity for Island Records, the music industry’s biggest booster of reggae and label home to Marley’s Wailers. While the singer’s popularity was already widespread at home, the photographer caught Marley (after waiting several days for him to return from the States) on the cusp of what he would become on an international level. But rather than an icon or the ambassador for peace and love, Gottlieb-Walker captured a personal side of Marley that is often overlooked. There is a warmth and approachability that shines through in her images of the man, as opposed to an image contrived by handlers (which would no doubt be the case if she photographed him in current times.)

But just as important as Gottlieb-Walker’s portraits of the star are the shots she took while waiting for the singer to return home. Her photos of Wailers Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston—just months before they would leave the band—are equally poignant. The pics of Tosh, who was often portrayed as militant as his music, are particularly revealing, especially those of him with the Walkers’ son, Orion. Sadly, Tosh too left this world too early, shot by a burglar in 1987. Elsewhere, Gottlieb-Walker captures the other players who would be nearly as important in reggae’s development. Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, Lee Perry, Inner Circle, Third World and others are all captured by her lens.

As the book’s title indicates, this was the golden age of reggae. It is no overstatement, as the genre would become watered down in the ’80s, becoming as vapid as its contemporary pop counterparts. This was an era that would never again be repeated, and Gottleib-Walker captures the artists at the height of their powers and in their natural settings. There is something that is primal and wild about her photographs, traits just as native to the music created by the artists in these shots. Marley’s essence may be commodified to a great extent, but in these images, he is free of those commercial shackles.
Stephen Slaybaugh