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Remembering Jürgen Schadeberg Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

31 August 2020

Jürgen Schadeberg, who documented the beginnings of the freedom movement in South Africa, died from a stroke at his home in La Drova, Spain on Saturday. He was 89.

Born in Berlin in 1931, Schadeberg grew up during the Nazi regime where he was raised by his mother Rosemarie. His mother emigrated with Capt. Oswald Hammond, a British officer who had courted her in postwar Berlin, to South Africa in 1947. Schadeberg remained behind to work as a darkroom assistant and photographer at the German Press Agency before joining them in South Africa in 1949.

He found South Africans surprisingly isolated from the rest of the world.

He became Drum magazine's staff photographer and graphic designer. In that role, he was also one of the few white photographers who captured the daily life of black South Africans. His knowledge of their culture gave him access to the earliest days of the freedom movement.

He photographed the Defiance Campaign of 1952, the 1956 Treason Trial, the Sophiatown removals of 1955, the Sophiatown jazz and social scene, the Sharpeville funeral of 1960 and Robben Island inmates.

'A photograph is a pause button on life.'

He made portraits of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Trevor Huddleston, and Govan Mbeki as well as prominent musicians in the jazz scene including Thandi Klaasen, Hugh Masekela, Kippie Moeketsi and Miriam Makeba.

He was among the earlier photojournalists to use a 35mm Leica rather than the Speed Graphic commonly used by press photographers of the 1950s.

"A photograph is a pause button on life," he described his approach. "You capture a moment in life, a moment that has gone forever and is impossible to reproduce."

In 1959, Schadeberg began a career as a freelancer but was forced to leave South Africa in 1964 because of the increasing civil unrest. He found work in London as the picture editor of Camera Owner magazine, serving as its editor from April to July 1965.

At the same time he taught photography and curated exhibitions for the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

After moving to Spain, he returned to South Africa in 1972 where he became a photographer for Christian Aid in Botswana and Tanzania. In 1973 he photographed in Senegal, Mali, Kenya and Zaire.

In 1985 he took up residence in South Africa with his third wife Claudia, working as photojournalist. The pair also established The Schadeberg Movie Company to make 15 documentaries about South Africa's history, including politics, culture and society.

He also published over 30 books, including The Fifties People of South Africa, Mandela & The Rise of the ANC and Voices from Robben Island.

In 2007, he returned to Europe.

In 2007 he was awarded the Officer's Verdienst Kreuz First Class by the German president and in 2014 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the ICP in New York. In 2014 he was awarded a Doctorate, Doctor Honoris Causa, for his life work by Valencia University Politecnica.

Schadeberg, who has been called the father of South African photography, produced about 200,000 negatives over 70 years. A selection of his work can be seen on his Web site.

In addition to his wife Claudia, he is survived their son Charlie, his children from previous relationships Wolfgang, Martine, Frankie, Bonnie and Leon as well as 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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