Friday, 17 February 2012

Speaking with Lindsay Donald, His Life & Photo's.

We are very pleased to be invited to interview Lindsay Donald, one of Jamaica’s finest photographers. Lindsay is well travelled being born a Jamaican and also having lived in the UK, Sweden, America & Africa, where he has practiced the art of photography. Lindsay is well known for his unique photos, particularly of Bob Marley & has photographed many other famous people from musicians to politicians. We are covering a little of Lindsay’s background before moving on to his association with Bob Marley, which may be found part way down the interview. We would like to thank Lindsay for this interview & wish him success with his book, a true work of art!

(LEFT: Portrait of BOB MARLEY, sitting smiling.)

How old were you when you came to the UK?
I was 10 years old & that was in 1962. It was spring & the first thing I noticed was that the housing was different.

What was your first job?
The first job I ever did was to work for Kodak in the paper department, the synthesizing department.

Tell us a little about your job and did it help you to understand photography?

We worked in the dark making & rolling giant rolls of synthesizing paper before they were taken to be cut. I learnt the process of making synthesized paper which helped me understand the basis of photography & I can even make a camera with a box if I have the chemicals. It’s called a,'Pin Hole camera.' Before digital photography took over photographers knew about paper, film & developer. Thanks to digital, in 20 years time people won’t remember using film.

How do you feel about modern photography?
We knew about the art & craft of photography. Nowadays anyone can use their built in digital camera & take a picture, even a monkey can take a good picture. They don’t know about composition, lighting or anything, so that doesn’t make them a photographer any more than if you or I were in formula one, could be called a Nigel Mansell.

When did you take your first picture & how did you feel?

I took my first picture before I applied to Kodak & it was of my brothers. It was shaky & out of focus. I knew I wanted to do photography from 13 so my Aunt who had been working there 25 years got me the job. I still have the first camera I ever bought & it cost me £5 in 1967, a Kodak Roll-fill camera; I still have it. The shop I bought it from is in South Harrow & it’s still a photographic shop. I looked at it everyday & saved up the money from my paper round until I got it. Once I got it I knew I would spend the rest of my life taking pictures because I can see. Some people write, but I can see. I am visual.


After Kodak you went to Sweden didn’t you, how come?
I wanted to start taking pictures & was too busy with work here. I went to Sweden because I was invited by a Swedish photographer I met over here. I got another camera & spent 2 years there & lived in a house with 8 photographers; it was like an apprenticeship really. We each had our own dark room & spent out time taking pictures of each other till we were sick! Of course we’d go out & take pictures too.

Why did you go from Sweden to Jamaica?
It was time. I went back to Jamaica in 1974. There’s a little place in Kingston where they sold Ganga & I met an American guy called Rocky who had come to buy some weed because they were making a film called, ‘The Marijuana Affair.’ Rocky was the stills man for the film, so I told him I was a photographer & he wanted me to be his assistant so I came on set the next day. I ended up being made a gofer & carrying bags about for Calvin Lockhart, who was the star of the film.

Did this experience interest you in the world of filming or did you prefer to stick with photography?
A lot of film makers will take photography as a hobby and visa versa. I had been taking films for years & being on set was the first time I saw the mechanics of how a film was made. I picked it up very quickly. I knew one day I would lose the buzz from taking pictures & I am glad you asked me because after I release my book, I will make a film from a 2 page synopsis I wrote 20 years ago about Marcus Garvey. Nobody has made a movie about Garvey, only documentaries. I can get someone to play him & shoot everything in Jamaica. It will give me a buzz.

How did it affect your work when black & white was overtaken by colour?

Colour has always been there but most photographers started with black & white which is the basis of photography; colour is just a technique. The aesthetics of looking at a black & white picture compared to colour will affect you differently. Black & white is stark & can make things look more real than colour which subdues things.

Do you prefer black & white or colour?

I always shoot in black & white. It is relatively easy as you only have 3 grades, black, grey & white. Colour is more technical as you have to know your tones & hues, also your clashes. I use a lot of colour as well but I always buy black & white film. The colour I used is now obsolete. Kodak stopped making it, Extrachrome & Kodachrome, you can’t get it now.

What prompted you to go to Africa?
It was a spirit thing; I felt it saying you have to go to Africa now. I spent 3 years there in Nigeria & photographed the festival.

Why did you decide to join up with Janhoi Jaja?
When I got back to Jamaica after Africa in 1977, Janhoi had already started the studio he called ‘Diplomat.’ I met up with him when he was trying to build it up & at that time I needed work. I had been in London, Sweden & Africa so I felt I wanted to spend time in Jamaica as it was the first time back since 1974. I decided to help him & we moved from the first studio to a bigger studio up the road.

At that time did you expect to be photographing famous people?

No, not really. The only famous person I knew was Bob. Bob was getting big & I didn’t deliberately do that. You just move in these circles, see these people & you got your camera so you photograph them.

Are you saying that you weren’t a close friend but you were in the same circles as Bob?

I used to see a lot of Bob at the studio. I used to go up to Bob’s studio which was in his house, 56 Hope Road. I stayed in Jamaica photographing people until 1980 until I went on tour with Bob to America. Bob was my main subject but I also photographed Burning Spear & Third World at the studio.

Were you getting any commissions by this point at all?

No, I didn’t have to look for any money out there because the studio provided me with that & I could do what I wanted to do. Janhoi surprised me because he did very well with Diplomat & I could subsidize myself with the money I made there.

(RIGHT: Picture of NEVILLE GARRICK, Jamaican born graphic artist, photographer, writer & Film maker)

How did the studio manage to make such a good living for you both?

Diplomat was set up right opposite the American Embassy & people needed to go there for their visas' so we ended up supplying the photo’s for them. We also did pictures for the artists when they were going on tour & because they always came to us we got a name. People called us the biggest photographic studio in Kingston.

Did the artists ask you to do photo’s for their album covers?
Janhoi got a couple of things & so did I, but most of them were on Island Records & they had their own in-house teams so mostly we would shoot things for local consumption, like the papers.
1980, when Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers released their first tune we went with them for a Sunday to Newcastle & we did the first publicity shots of them; these were used in the local paper. If you go on Ziggy’s site they still got it up because it’s one of the first pictures of them as a group.

How come you went to America with Bob Marley in 1980?

During 1980 Bob set up the first Rasta newspaper & called it ‘Survival.’ Bob was the publisher, Mortimer Plano was the editor & he was Bob’s mentor; the man who taught him about Rastafari. Because I was living with Morti, he tells Bob I had to come along as the photographer. That picture I sent you of Bobby sitting smiling, that was the picture I took of Bob that was going to be on the front of the first paper but they decided to use the picture of a little boy standing beside a portrait of Selassie with a drum which I call, ‘Portrait, Boy & Drum.’ We did the paper in the July & in September when they were going on tour, we were in the studio when Rita (Marley) asked me if I was going on tour. I said,’ I don’t know,’ so she said, ‘Don’t you want to go on tour?’ I said, ’Yes,’ so she got my papers set up & I went on tour. When I got to America I went off to Bob’s mother house in Miami & everything was great!

Did you stay with Bob in America?

I’ll tell you whom I stayed with. I stayed with the woman who had the last child for Bob & her daughter now is in her 30’s & that’s Jahnesta Marley. Jahnesta is the last child that was born & she was born 2 weeks after Bob died.

How long were you in America for?
I stayed in America for 3 years. The tour collapsed before the end of September because Bob took ill & it wasn’t until later that he actually died. During that time in 1980 communication wasn’t as key as it is now so even whilst I was there, when Bob was ill I didn’t know too much. I was calling from Miami for information & they just said, ’Oh Bob’s going to be alright,’ so I went along with that.

So how long was Bob ill for that you knew of Lindsay?

The last time I saw Bob, he did 2 shows at Maddison Square Gardens & he played a Friday & Saturday night then had a day off. The Sunday they had a party for him at a club in New York called ‘The Negril’ & I went there. Monday morning I went to the hotel because my father was still alive & lived in Brooklyn & I told Bob I was going to see my father. Bob then got on the tour bus & they were going to a place called Pittsburgh where Bob played his last show. He played that show on the Monday night, the Tuesday they were off & the Wednesday they should have played at the University in Washington. When they were getting on the bus, Bob actually said to me he thought I was going to come on the bus with them & I said, ’No, I’ll see you guys in Washington’ & that was the last I saw of him. I visit my Dad on Monday & on Tuesday I took myself to Washington. The Wednesday morning I went to the venue & when I got there they said,’ didn’t you hear, Bob was sick last night & collapsed in Pittsburgh.’ At that time I thought it was just exhaustion so I called Yvette in Miami because she was co-ordinating things & she said, ’Lindsay you better go back to New York because this is serious,’ & this was the first time I knew something was wrong. So I went back to New York & I had to go stay with my father & spent about a week there. The next week I had some money so I flew back to Miami & I went to Yvette & said, ’Yvette, what’s going on?’ & that’s when I think they took him to Germany or something. Nobody was really saying anything & it slowly, slowly came out that Bob wasn’t coming back. It went on & one month went to two months & I was hoping he was coming back again but it wasn’t to be. The following May I was back again in New York & Donna, of Althea & Donna, told me Bob had died so I called Yvette & she told me. There were a lot of rumours & it was all mysterious so I don’t know when he really died. In May of 1981 I went back to Miami & spent a week at Bob’s house. They were all going back to Jamaica for the funeral & thought I was too, but I didn’t because Bob’s Mum asked a few of us to look after her house. I got their passports coz everybody was in shock, went to the airport & checked them in & after a week when they came back we had a big party for Bob at his mother’s house, a farewell party. After that I went back to New York & also went to California & Jamaica.

When did you come back to London?

In 1985 I came back to London & worked for the Caribbean Times for 7 years. The publisher was going to help me with the book but there was so much work to be done we forgot about it. It was a very exciting time & I started meeting a lot of high profile people: Margaret Thatcher & I was in Douglas Herd’s office, the Home Secretary, chatting with him while I photographed him. I met Bernie Grant, Diane Abbot & back in the hotel with Diane Abbot I took some compromising pictures, well very embarrassing because a congressman got a bit frisky with her. I felt sorry for her so I gave her the film. Actually she invited me to her son’s christening. I think he was the first child to be Christened at the House of Commons. The Godfather was Maggie Thatcher’s minister of Defence & he went to prison for some shit. It was really swanky.

(RIGHT: 'Portrait, Boy & Drum;' First cover of Bob Marley's magazine 'SURVIVAL.')

Tell us about some of the other people you have met.

Steel Pulse were playing in a place called the Country Club in San Fernando Valley, California & I was taking photo’s back stage. Stevie Wonder was backstage & he wanted to meet the band. He had a load of girls with him, a lot of champagne & shit. He invited me over, I took some shots & after a little while he wanted to go to the toilet so he grabbed my hand & I walked him to the toilet & back... laugh. The thing is Stevie remembers me because about 15 years ago in London he was staying at the Hyde Park Hotel & I went over there to show someone some pictures & he knew who I was. I first met Stevie in 1977 in Lagos, Nigeria when I photographed him with the King of Afro beat, Fela Kuti.
I photographed Michael Jackson on stage in 1982 before Thriller. I didn’t meet Michael but I hung out with Randy. That’s when he was the real Michael Jackson so to speak. I met Patti Davies, Ronald Reagan’s daughter, The white Kung Fu guy & Shirley McClean. All the pictures will be in the book.

How many hours has it taken you to archive your book?
Starting from scratch you can do it in a month, but you have to get the money to get the book together properly. Every thing is in place & I need around £90,000 to print 5000 copies & sell at a decent price, probably £100 a copy & some people say it’s cheap because Kate Simon’s book cost much more. Even the Marley’s want a copy. My biggest selling point is that when Kate Simon’s book came out she claimed she had the last unpublished pictures of Bob. I put my stuff out & I am challenging anybody to come & say they have more, but so far nobody has.

Please tell us the name of your book & where people can link with you.

My book is called, ‘PORTRAIT OF A LEGEND AND OTHER FOLKS.’ There is more information on my website & I am also on Facebook & Linked-in


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