Bob Marley in New Zealand
When veteran music photographer and DJ Murray Cammick photographed Bob Marley in 1979, he had no idea it would be his last opportunity to do so. Usually, when big artists came to New Zealand, they’d come every couple of years. This meant that if you didn’t get a chance to photograph or interview someone in as much depth as you would have liked, chances are they’d be back in a bit, and you could catch up with them then.
This wasn’t the case with Bob Marley, who died in 1981.
This week and next, Murray Cammick and the Ellen Melville Centre are putting together an exhibition projecting photos from Bob Marley’s 1979 visit to New Zealand. The exhibit is to celebrate Waitangi Day and Bob Marley’s birthday, which fall on the same day.
Some of these photos are well-known, but some have never been seen before.
Fly on the wall
Cammick didn’t interact with Marley very much, as he has a “fly on the wall” approach to photography. But their one conversation was memorable. Cammick was taking pictures of Bob Marley and his entourage playing soccer. Eventually, Marley asked him if he wanted to play. Cammick declined, but got the message: “he would have preferred me to be playing soccer with them, rather than taking photos of them.”
Some of the photos are “raw,” and not up to Cammick’s usual standards. He doesn’t usually show photos unless they’ve been developed straight from negatives, as this gives the highest quality and best resolution. But he’s making an exception in this case, in order to give people a glimpse of Bob Marley’s 1979 visit. Consequently, a lot of the photos are from contact sheets and prints, as the negatives have been lost in the meantime.
Murray is kicking himself over some of those losses—he remembers lending some of the negatives to acquaintances not long after Bob Marlery’s tour. At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal, as there would be opportunities to take more photos in the future. These opportunities never arrived.
The result is a raw, loosely-curated look at Bob Marley’s tour of New Zealand in 1979. His arrival at the airport, the pōwhiri at the hotel, his concert, his gold album presentation, and the soccer photos are all documented.
These photos are a primary source of reflecting an important cultural moment. At the time, Marley had brought reggae to the world in a big way, not just through the music itself, but also through the anti-violence themed lyrics. “He had a real mana about him,” says Murray.
Setting the record straight
One purpose of the exhibition is to help people get a real look at how Bob Marley was on his visit. “There’s been a lot of mythmaking in the meantime,” says Murray, “and these photos help people see what his actual experience was.” For example, some of the well-known photos of Bob Marley playing soccer were taken in a park in Port Resolution—but there’s been so much mythologising in the meantime, there are stories of him playing soccer in parks all over Auckland. You can see why it’s not uncommon for everyone to know someone who knows someone who “definitely saw him that day.”
The free exhibition runs from 30 January to 7 February at the Ellen Melville Centre, in the Helen Clark Room. On Friday, 2 February, Murray Cammick will be putting on a “Marley and Family” DJ set from 11am-2pm, then giving a talk about the photos after the set is finished.