- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Had he not succumbed to cancer in 1981, reggae legend Bob Marley would have been 60 years old this February. Despite his untimely death, Mr. Marley’s groundbreaking, politically charged music lives on, as does his god-like status.

“His image has taken on a religious level,” said Chris Blackwell, Mr. Marley’s longtime producer and Island Records founder in a telephone interview from his home in Jamaica. “He has become more important to people than a pop star.”

Indeed. “Rebel Music,” an exhibit running through Jan. 15 by noted New York photographer Kate Simon at Georgetown’s Govinda Gallery, pays homage to the late Mr. Marley as if he were a deity.

In the process, however, Miss Simon has achieved an intimacy with her subject that has never before been attained in any other photographs of the reggae superstar.

Remarkably candid, Miss Simon’s work even portrays the iconic Mr. Marley as a “regular guy.” As Mr. Blackwell puts it, her photographs “don’t demystify Marley but show him as a human being.”

Hired by Mr. Blackwell to chronicle Mr. Marley’s 1977 European tour, Miss Simon had unique access to the singer until his death. Her exhibit and its accompanying limited edition coffee-table volume, “Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae” (from Genesis Publications for a suggested retail price of $395), features hundreds of previously unseen photographs.

Many of Miss Simon’s images are so off the cuff that they appear to be culled from a Marley family member’s photo album. Among the most striking are Mr. Marley wading through customs in a German airport, laying on the floor with a broad grin and his head resting on a soccer ball, and another with him sitting peacefully on his porch at home in Kingston.

Sadder still, Miss Simon has unearthed photographs she snapped of a forlorn Mr. Marley, stretched out on the seats of his tour bus with a bandaged toe that he believed to be a mere soccer injury — but it ultimately proved to be the first signs of the cancer that killed him.

“In my photographs he looks unmasked,” said Miss Simon in a telephone interview from her home in New York. “Time and again, he showed me himself.”

The photographer, who’s also turned her lens on Madonna, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie among other giants of popular music, says that for her, other musicians “do not come close to Bob Marley. Some day, he will be as big as Beethoven.”

Yet despite her dedication, Miss Simon insists that she couldn’t have achieved the results she did without Mr. Marley’s full cooperation.

“He gave me a lot of great photographs,” she says. “You can’t take someone’s photograph. They have to give it to you. In my pictures of Bob, he looks truthful.”

With her photographs of Mr. Marley, “Kate Simon captured a pinnacle moment of cultural reggae, Jamaican music that had a spiritual message,” Mr. Blackwell says. “She was able to develop a rapport with him, which wasn’t easy because he was very shy.

“I just wish he were here to see it all,” Mr. Blackwell laments.

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