by Alex Grover
The rain this past Saturday didn’t deter a full crowd at VP Records’ 35th Anniversary concert at SummerStage in Central Park. During a certain downpour, many (including myself) flocked to a tent full of reggae record art and memorabilia, chatting in the heat. One insanely talented individual had already been sitting within, proudly showcasing her beautiful coffee table book/photo journey, Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae. That was Kim Gottlieb-Walker, member of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association.
Gottlieb-Walker has been a photographer since she was about ten years old, photographing her little brothers with an old brownie box camera. In her freshman year at UC Berkley, she photographed the Free Speech Movement with her mother’s fixed lens parallax 35mm camera and was hooked on photojournalism. She transferred to UCLA to major in motion picture production and started shooting interviews conducted by her film school instructor, including portraits of Jimi Hendrix when she was 20. After graduation, she worked for the underground press, shot the Sha Na Na Show, traveled to London, and worked for several music magazines. She met her husband, Jeff Walker, over the formation of Music World Magazine where they became a writer-editor/photographer team. When he landed his dream job as the USA head of publicity for Island Records and needed photos of the various reggae artists for their American albums, Walker knew who he could rely on to get what he needed—which led her to a Jamaican musician with a big heart, an unparalleled voice, and, at that point, zero exposure in the States. In 1975 and ’76, Kim photographed Bob Marley in both Los Angeles and in his home in Jamaica and she, Jeff, and their three year old traveled all over Jamaica photographing every musician who wanted to be photographed.
“Bob Marley did not like to pose, though he didn’t mind having me hang out,” Gottlieb-Walker said as passers-by frequented the tent. But, she said, Bob trusted her enough to let her take some of the most iconic pictures we’ve seen of the classic reggae star, including the cover of High Times Magazine—most likely the only time he didn’t mind posing. In 2010, Titan Books UK (Random House USA) published her first coffee table photo book, Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae.
Gottlieb-Walker then pointed to a set of three pictures in her book, each with Bob posing. The first shows Bob with a very serious face. “You can tell in the first one that he was a bit stiff,” she said. “So I peeked out from behind the camera and said, ‘You know, some of the people who will see these photos are people who already love you.” Gottlieb-Walker made an impact: the following two shots show Bob breaking into a smile.
It wasn’t a problem taking pictures of Bob when his band mates and friends surrounded him at home. Gottlieb-Walker showed me a few casual shots of Bob laughing with the band, hanging around the house, and talking with her own young son (who turned out to be an ice-breaking genius in Jamaica because of his extensive knowledge of reggae groups). Several shots include young journalist Cameron Crowe, of Almost Famous notoriety, whom Jeff had hired to write for Music World Magazine when he was fifteen. And only one shot included herself, her image reflected in a mirror as Bob reads some music press.
In the late ’70s, she began shooting for John Carpenter on his early movies—Halloween and H-2, The Fog, Escape from New York, and Christine—resulting in her most recent coffee table book On Set with John Carpenter, which includes the joyful reminiscences of many of the cast and crew. In the ’80s and ’90s, she worked on Cheers (for nine years) and Family Ties (for five years) as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, and the last Bob Newhart show, Bob.
About ten years ago, Gottlieb-Walker was caught in another journey some of us know very well: she’d written a novel and then put it away. After a decade, she decided to take another look at it and see if it had any merit. She said she’d wanted to polish it and was delighted to find a brilliant group of diverse, talented women in the WNBA L.A. writers group, doing a tad more than just critique her novel.
“They really supported me,” Gottlieb-Walker said. They were not only brilliant with suggestions, but empowered her to revise it, expand it and actually seek a publisher. “It’s a woman’s journey novel using many of my real life experiences, but with a strong romance to tie it together. The women in my group (who write an amazing variety of genres themselves, including memoirs, edgy young adult novels, and generational epics) helped her avoid romance clichés, she said, “but it’s still a romance novel at its core.” Loosely based on her own life and travels in England, Jamaica, Pakistan, and Hollywood—all of which she mentioned with a true author’s shimmer in her eyes—the book is currently being read by a prospective publisher.
Her next photo book, tentatively dubbed My Sixties, will cover Gottlieb-Walker’s experiences and discoveries from 1967 to 1974 that were “her sixties” when she shot for the underground press and Music World: popular culture icons, rock and roll, and politics.
After shaking her hand, I left the tent to feel the rain and Bob’s legacy in the music onstage. If the journey novel she’s written is filled with even an inkling of her magical personality, I thought, carrying a signed copy of Bob Marley, it will be impossible to resist.
Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae
160 pages, Hardcover
November 2, 2010