Snapshot of a legendFriday, April 30, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the 24th in a series titled Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.
FOR millions, many of whom were born after the death of Bob Marley or were too young at the time of his passing in May 1981, his music keeps his memory and legacy alive.
Despite the tangible nature of his music, images of the superstar have further cemented his mystique on the global consciousness.
Few people had the opportunity of capturing his meteoric ascendancy like British photojournalist Adrian Boot. He shot iconic images of Marley including the cover for the multimillion-selling album Legend, and the image of a younger Marley on the cover of the box set, Songs of Freedom.
“It is interesting that, that Legend shot has become so iconic. It was never intended to be released. The photograph was taken rather informally at a child's birthday party in London. It was not a particularly good shoot with an art director, in a studio with expensive lighting or anything like that. Like any other shoot I made my selections… about 15 shots and sent them off to the client and filed away the negatives. When I was called for other shots for this particular project I was away on assignment shooting Fela [Kuti] in Africa. So it was my wife who was in charge and she sent them these shots for a focus group they were having to choose the cover shot. And out of everything they chose that image… and the rest is history,” Boot shared with the Jamaica Observer from his London home yesterday.
This birthday party formed the visuals for a music video for the Marley anthem One Love. The video also marked the debut of supermodel Naomi Campbell who was eight years old at the time.
Adrian Boot was fresh out of university in 1970 and looking for a teacher's job. The opportunity arose as a teacher of physics at Titchfield High School in Port Antonio on Jamaica's north-east. He jumped at the chance of a two-year working vacation on a tropical island, but never thought he would become so taken and impressed with the natural beauty of the country, its culture and the warmth of its people.
“Jamaica was eye candy. There was so much to photograph. So in a real sense I owe Jamaica my life because a lot of what I have achieved I owe to my association with the island. I guess it is why I am addicted to Jamaica.”
At the end of his tenure, Boot returned to London and became a regular contributor to major UK publications such as The Guardian and The Times. Due to his affinity for Jamaica and its music, whenever there was an assignment related to both, Boot was their man.
He met Island Records boss Chris Blackwell while he lived in Jamaica and once he was back in London he renewed the acquaintance which resulted in his first shoot with Marley.
“This was nothing special. The Island Records press office had called to say they needed images of this guy, Bob Marley. He was staying at an apartment in Carlos Place, nothing fancy, but it was not rundown either… Chris looked after them that way. So I was just going in to take a few pictures, just another guy. I remember he was a little bit shy, I guess all of this was new to him. Not even he understood what was to happen to Bob Marley in the months and years to come, how could he? These are the pictures of him with very short locks, one of which was used for Songs of Freedom,” he recalled.
“Interestingly, I was the only one with weed that day. Before going to the shoot I had gone and bought some weed in London. During the shoot I made it known that I had it. I remember “Family Man” Barrett and his brother Carlton were there with Lucky Gordon, who was the cook. Needless to say, by the end of the shoot they had smoked all my weed,” said Boot.
He photographed Marley on a number of occasions in Jamaica, New York and London in the years that followed. Boot recalled that Marley remained shy even as his star rose. But then came those final months, when word of his cancer diagnosis began to spread in September 1980.
“I had been kept informed of his situation by Denise Mills who worked for Island Records and was very close to Bob. I knew when he was going to [West] Germany and what the situation was. So when the news came it was not absolutely out of the blue. I was in Nassau making my way to Venezuela for a shoot when I got the message. I lost that job as I headed back to London as I just wanted to provide images for the newspapers there, get Bob Marley on the covers,” said Boot.
He was also among the throngs who attended Marley's state funeral at the National Arena in St Andrew on May 21, 1981, and made the pilgrimage to the singer's birthplace in Nine Miles, St Ann, for his burial. The imagery from that event has stayed with the photojournalist 40 years later.
“It was all so very moving. I sat in a truck that was right behind the coffin from Kingston to Nine Miles. What stands out for me is Bob's song Coming In From The Cold. They played it over and over, and for a very long time it affected me… I can't help but wonder what would he be doing now. It is such a shame he died so young,” Boot reminisced.
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