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Obituary: Jürgen Schadeberg (1931 – 2020)

Jürgen Schadeberg, whose photos chronicled in such great detail life under apartheid, died at his home in Spain of stroke-related complications, according to his wife Claudia.

Jürgen Schadeberg, Hamburg, 1948

His photographs are as familiar as they are iconic: Nelson Mandela gazing through the bars of his prison cell on Robben Island; a young Miriam Makeba smiling and dancing; Hugh Masekela as a schoolboy receiving the gift of a trumpet from Louis Armstrong; Henry ‘Mr Drum’ Nxumalo; the Women’s March of 1955; the Sophiatown removals; the funeral of the Sharpeville massacre victims… Jürgen Schadeberg was the man behind the camera, recording history as it unfolded in apartheid South Africa.
     In his memoir The Way I See It, Schadeberg gave insight into his own rather extraordinary life, from his first-hand experiences as a child in Berlin during World War II, where he witnessed the devastating effects of the repressive Nazi regime, and felt the full wrath of the Allied Forces’ relentless bombing of the city.
     At the end of WWII, when British forces entered the city, a British officer met and married his mother and the couple immigrated to South Africa in 1947, leaving Schadeberg to study photography and to work as a darkroom assistant and photographer at the German Press Agency in Hamburg until he, too, immigrated to South Africa, in 1949.
     He began taking pictures for the fledgeling Drum magazine that started his international, award-winning career, which spanned over 50 years – in Europe, Africa and the United States. His Drum images showed life and events ‘the way he saw it’, fearless, intimate and very real, not something that was done at that time in this country.
     In 1964, Schadeberg left South Africa for London. During the ‘60s and ‘70s, he freelanced as a photojournalist in Europe and America, before returning to South Africa in 1985 for 22 years.

Mandela’s Return to his cell on Robben Island 1994 PHOTO Jürgen Schadeberg,

After his return, Schadeberg embarked on a project to catalogue the Drum archives, which he had found on a farm owned by the magazine’s former owner, Jim Bailey. The archive later inspired lasting feuds over copyright and royalty payments.
     During this period, as Schadeberg and his wife Claudia focused on producing books based on the Drum archive and documentaries, South Africa was changing dramatically. Protesters on the streets of segregated black townships clamoured for change and for the freedom of Mandela, which finally came in 1990, and Schadeberg was there to document it all again.
    He covered the 1994 elections: ‘People were standing in the hot sun for sometimes all day to vote, and there was a missis and her maid standing next to each other and, for the first time, talking to each other like normal human beings.’
     Until Mandela’s death, Schadeberg continued to chronicle Mandela’s life, the milestones of birthdays, the marriage to Graça Machel, the years of his presidency. He accompanied Mandela on many travels, like in 1994 when Mandela, together with other ex-Rivonia trialists, returned to Robben Island and Schadeberg took perhaps the most iconic photo ever of this great man looking out of the window of the cell where he had spent the majority of his 18 years on the Island.
     We here at Creative Feel got to know Schadeberg well and we did some interesting projects together, and we met up when he was in South Africa in recent years. In all the years we have known Jürgen Schadeberg, he has always been most supportive and generous to us, allowing us to use any of these wonderful images only a great photographer can take.
     Our condolences go to Claudia, who for all these years was a true partner in every sense to Jürgen, as well as to the Schadeberg family.
     It is appropriate to wish this great and fearless African narrator: hamba kahle, go well!

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