Photographer presents an offbeat glimpse of reggae legends

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Mike Devlin of The Times Colonist, reviews Lee Jaffe Photographic Exhibit. To see his photographic work–if you cannot make the exhibit-go to

When: Friday, 4 p.m.

Where: Odd Fellows Hall, 1315 Douglas St.

Tickets: $15 at The Reef, Lyle’s Place, and; $20 at the door

Lee Jaffe is a textbook example of how being open to opportunities can lead to very good things. It’s a recurring theme in the life of the New York native, who has worked with everyone from Bob Marley and Peter Tosh to Lenny Kravitz and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

His try-anything mandate means Jaffe goes where his art intuitively takes him. With a resumé that includes work as a photographer, artist, author, filmmaker and musician, his journey to date has been one of eventful ups and downs. “I feel fortunate to have met and worked with some great people,” Jaffe said. “That’s just life, you know?”

A big part of his life — Jaffe’s friendship with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and their Wailers bandmates — will be on display Friday at Odd Fellows Hall. Jaffe, who will be on hand for a question-and-answer segment and performance, is showing and selling prints of some of his most stirring photographs, subjects which include Marley and Tosh.

Some of his images with Marley were taken on the fly. But perhaps his most famous shot — that of Tosh sitting in a head-high field of marijuana, which later became the cover to Legalize It, Tosh’s solo debut from 1976 — was entirely by design.

It was taken on a farm Marley had shown him years before, in the mountains near St. Ann’s, Jamaica, where he was born. “The valley was glowing,” Jaffe recalled. “It was all herb. At that time, in 1973 or 1974, no one in North America knew what a herb field looked like. So when Peter had the song, Legalize It, I knew exactly where to take it.”

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Jaffe has never stayed long in one place. Over the course of his life, the multi-disciplinarian has spent time in the Amazon, Brazil, France and Italy. Along the way, he always returns to either Los Angeles or New York on a semi-permanent basis.

It was in California that Jaffe met Romeo Blue, a struggling musician who would find fame under his given name, Lenny Kravitz.

How their relationship came to be is typical of Jaffe’s life. “I had a loft in New York, but I had recently moved to L.A., and I was looking for a studio,” Jaffe said. “I had been offered a one-person show at the Moderna Museet in Sweden, and I had a big installation that I wanted to make.”

A real estate friend turned him on to a house in Venice Beach, which had a studio in the backyard. It turned out to be the home of Kravitz and Lisa Bonet. “They wanted to move to New York, so we wound up trading. It worked out great for both of us, because Lenny wrote the album [his debut, 1989’s Let Love Rule] in my loft.”

Kravitz, by way of thanking him for the break, recruited Jaffe to play harmonica on the Let Love Rule song Rosemary.

Jaffe realized soon after meeting Marley that he was in the presence of greatness. He heard the first demos for Marley’s Catch a Fire album while in a hotel room with Marley and Jim Capaldi of Traffic. After that, he was hooked.

“Jim had a boombox and said, ‘You’ve got to hear this guy’s record.’ When he put it on, it was the best thing I had ever heard,” Jaffe said. He met Marley again weeks later, on a chartered plane headed for Jamaica. Upon arrival, Marley introduced him to the Wailers, who were preparing for a U.S. tour. He signed on immediately. “There was nothing else in the world that I could be doing that would be more important than helping to get this music out there.”

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Marley, Tosh and Kravitz are but three of the legends Jaffe has known. Jaffe had a short but thriving friendship with the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, just as the urban auteur was coming into his own as one of the foremost painters of his generation. Basquiat and Jaffe worked together on many occasions, though one of Jaffe’s fondest memories was when Andy Warhol (who had begun a series of a collaborations with Basquiat in 1983) caught wind of one of Jaffe’s ideas.

It was around the time Jaffe had opened a studio of his own (the money for it, Jaffe said, was made “from distributing very high-quality herb” that friends of his were importing from Thailand). Counterfeit bills passed through his hands doing such work, with dollar bills cut to appear like five-dollar denominations.

Jaffe gave one to an enthused Basquiat, who gave it Warhol to sign. “They photographed it and that was our collaboration.”

Creating art is as simple as that, Jaffe said. His appearance Friday in Victoria (which features sets of music from locals Laughlin Meagher, Adam Tree and DJ Caçadora) is yet another extension of his ongoing interest in art in its myriad forms.

“Pretty much now, I think of it all as one thing,” he said.

For the original report go to

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